Utter Destruction at the Hunter House ⚒️🪓

April 18, 2019

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


[Part two of a three part series – start with part one]

In July of 2009, we had a plan in place. We were handing the keys to our house on Hunter Boulevard to our builder, Jon, who would start the demolition work before building the second story we had designed over the previous year.

In the weeks before handing over the house, an idea started to percolate. We’d walk around the house and see that whole walls would be removed. The flooring would be replaced. The house, as we knew, was about to disappear and we saw an opportunity. There must be a way to optimize this situation, we thought.

This was the first time we considered having a demolition party.

What does that mean, you might ask? It means plying a group of friends with alcohol, tools and safety glasses and letting them treat our house like a demolition zone. Today, it might require signing waivers, but at the time, it seemed like a perfect send-off. When would we ever have a chance to do such a thing?

After taping off some sections of walls for safety, we gathered tools of destruction like hammers and crowbars. We also acquired tools of play, like toy paintball guns, buckets of finger paint and a couple of slingshots for the paintballs.

paintballs

People were timid at first…

timid

But soon the alcohol took over…

cover almost every surface

Paint started to cover almost every surface. At one point, two dozen eggs appeared and we threw eggs at the outside of the house, because, why not? It was a night to do things that we’d never done before.

threw eggs

One scene I’ll always remember is our friend, Jay, late in the evening, turning on a floor fan and dripping paint into it to see how far it might fly.

dripping paint

People rode skateboards down our hallways. They took out frustrations on surprisingly tough lath and plaster walls built in the 1920s. There was paintball target practice in our former bedroom. We were all sweaty, paint-covered messes.

rode skateboards

This was July, but not just any July.

Seattle’s average daytime temperature in the summer is in the 70s and most people don’t have air conditioning, including us at the time. When the heat comes, it can be miserable because there is no place to go outside of a mall or movie theater.

We had to move, host the party and hand over the keys to Jon, all by August 1. This turned out to be spectacularly unlucky planning. The one day we planned to move, July 29, 2009, now lives in infamy because it ended up being the hottest recorded day in Seattle’s history at 105(f). We owe a big thanks to Sachi’s brother, Mark, and his wife, Leslie, for helping us move through the swelter.

Days later, we handed off the keys to Jon, who was a good sport, but not super impressed with the aftermath of the party. The house was partially demolished, but also a complete mess. The paintball paint stained window frames we were reusing. Eggs dripped down the roof and outside of the house and became grosser every day. All our fun and good intentions made his job slightly more difficult, but he forgave us and got to work.

Our little house on Hunter Blvd. became unrecognizable within days as a huge dumpster appeared and became full of walls and decking and paint-stained trim. The real demolition had commenced and there was no going back.

Our little house on Hunter Blvd

It was during this phase that the reality of this kind of renovation became clear. After taking off the roof and taking the walls down to the studs, Jon showed us that the 1924 structure wouldn’t be able to support a second story. Further, we had never noticed it, but half the floor of the old house wasn’t level and he recommended fixing it. These were the first of many troublesome discoveries.

What could we do? The house didn’t have a roof. We had to invest in making the structure work and that meant more time, more planning, more expense

structure work
Jon, the builder on the left. Ed, the framer, walking through
Jon, the builder on the left. Ed, the framer, walking through

As these questions loomed, Jon was racing against time. Every October, consistent rains arrive in Seattle and builders work to get a roof on their projects before then. With each setback, the rain risks grew. But we had to press on.

Early in the planning, we assumed the main floor wouldn’t need a lot of work. As you can see in the before-and-after photos below, we were wrong.

the main floor 1
the main floor 2
the main floor 3

Each day, after the workers drove away for the evening, we’d visit the house and see the incredible progress that comes with demolition. It was satisfying to see so much change happen so quickly. There were surprises and disappointments, but we had good relationships with both John, the architect, and Jon, the builder. It was these relationships that would become the biggest factor in getting the whole thing done.

With the planning and demolition complete, we could finally start going up.

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