8 min read

What's inside? Great light, great wood.

Have you been inside?
What's inside? Great light, great wood.
The living room of 615 Sunset Lane with the front sunroom shown, too.

Every contractor who meets me at 615 Sunset Lane to talk about a job soon tells me how much they love this house. They all say the same things: You don't find original woodwork like this very easily. The light in this house is fantastic. And the location – a five-minute walk from MSU's campus and downtown East Lansing – can't be beat.

Here's what I would add: The neighbors are wonderful – people who purposefully live in a 1920s neighborhood where we remain close geographically and socially. And, I almost never have to use a car except when I go out of town. I get my outdoor exercise on campus and on the nearby municipal trail system. When it's icy and I need to exercise inside, I walk two blocks to the Hannah Community Center where I use the gym equipment and the pool.

Ten minutes gets me on foot to the post office, the public library, and the downtown CVS and Target, and fifteen minutes on foot (three minutes by car) puts me at Campbell's Market Basket, a great urban grocery store located right next to Quark, my favorite science-geek store. Just one mile west is the fabulous Frandor. (Come on, you know it's so useful!)

Oh, and did I mention that Crunchy's pub (best burgers in town) and the East Lansing Farmers' Market are just down the hill, two blocks south?

We could have afforded to move to a swankier neighborhood a long time ago, a place with big lawns and huge garages. But why would we? The lifestyle here is the best, and our old house is a gem. I'm hoping to get new neighbors at 615 who feel the same way – who discover why people stay in these houses for 40 or even 60 years at a stretch.

But it will take some upgrades to make the house at 615 Sunset Lane immediately as wow as it should be in every room.

Here's a peek at where we're starting:

The living room of 615 Sunset Lane.

The living room is huge and welcoming. The windows bring in marvelous light from the south and on the east the light comes through the sunroom windows and doors. It's just a great entry to a great house.

Here, we expect to be adding a plug for a TV over the mantle, sconces to light the room better, and a few other elegant touches at the advice of designer/general contractor Lisa Ford. The ceiling fan is being replaced with a more modern, less heavy fixture. The electrical box for the ceiling fan was upgraded a couple of days ago.

As I mentioned yesterday, the sunroom just east of the living room is currently the real "wow" for most of us. It's a big, beautiful room with terrific woodwork and light.

Now that we've removed the heavy bushes that were growing up toward the second floor, the light is even better in this room than shown in this photo.

The dining room is off the west side of the living room and contains a built-in that has made me jealous for 25 years:

This picture doesn't really do the built-in window-seat justice. More in the future!

The dining room is big and bright thanks to the south-facing built-in. In the back of this photo, you see the entrance to the first-floor bedroom (or office) to the left and to the kitchen on the right.

The dining room light fixture appears to be original. I cleaned it up this week and it's incredibly charming.

The kitchen was upgraded relatively recently with new cabinetry and countertops and is definitely usable as-is, but Lisa has offered terrific ideas about how to make it cheerier and more functional.

The main change in the kitchen will be replacing the drop ceiling with drywall, reworking the cabinetry, and adding stylistic details to make it sing.

The breakfast nook will be fixed up with refinishing, a new tabletop, and cushions. The "dead" corner in the kitchen (to the right of the photo above) will be getting significant additional cabinetry to augment the storage space in the kitchen. This room's before and after are going to be pretty exciting.

Behind the dining room and kitchen sits what appears to be an early addition to the house, namely a bedroom/office space and a half-bathroom. Here's the bedroom/office space:

It's another room where we'll be changing out the drop ceiling and painted panel walls for fresh drywall, because it's another room with great light that will feel more comfortable after reno.

Here's the first-floor bathroom:

Oh, I know, it's dated. Here's where we're dropping some serious money. This is going to turn into a bigger bathroom with a shower, heated floor, and modern fixtures. When it becomes a full bath, it will mean the first-floor bedroom can function as a sort of suite. It will have an independent entrance just off the kitchen, making it easy for visitors to use.

First-floor bedroom with the existing first-floor half-bath in the background.

To make all this work, on Lisa's advice, we'll be taking a little space from the first-floor bedroom/office to extend the bathroom and we're adding a closet to the bedroom. When we're done, it will be a great room for an elderly relative living with a family, or for a nanny, or for use as an office with a couch that converts to a guest bed. It would also make a great first-floor playroom for the kids.

Many houses in our 1920s neighborhood were built without coat closets. At our house, we paid a carpenter to build a custom armoire for our coats, hats, umbrellas, and book bags. But the house at 615 is a notable exception in the neighborhood! It has a coat closet at the base of the stairs, just inside the front door behind yet another beautiful French door.

Looking down the stairs, north-facing window to the left, coat closet in the middle, door to living room to the right, east-facing front door just visible through the living room doorway.
A French door (shown open) divides the private space upstairs from the living room. The coat closet is just inside this doorway, to the right, with the stairwell to the left. The front door is just to the right of this photo.

The ceiling lamp at the base of the stairwell is so gorgeous, we've thought about stealing it for our house. But our house doesn't have ceilings this high, so we'll leave it for the lucky new owners.

I haven't gotten to washing it up yet, but even dusty, it's just grand.

The stairs up to the second floor are in great shape – original woodwork with no dangerous variety in the steps as in some older houses.

At the base and at top of the stairs are more beautiful old windows.

And upstairs? Three big, bright bedrooms! All with BIG closets!

We all call this the "small" bedroom, but it's not that small! To the left is the area holding real stairs to the big attic. The door on the right is to a large closet. This room faces east and north.
This bedroom is huge and gets southern and eastern light. We love the fixture on the wall. There's another big closet in this bedroom, just inside the entry door.
This bedroom was used as the master. It faces south and west and has the biggest closet (with a window!) and access to a rooftop used for container gardening and sunning.

Here's a photo showing about two-thirds of the closet in the back bedroom:

Love that window. It would greatly improve my attitude about getting up.

The upstairs hallway also has an original built-in linen closet with drawers, another point of jealousy compared to my house. It's at the top of the stairs, right outside the upstairs bathroom. It provides easy extra storage for things like bathroom towels and sheets, cleaning supplies, and more.

The hardware and wood of the linen closet would make me want to do laundry.

Latch to the upper part of the linen closet.
Hinge on the linen closet.
Photo showing the beautiful wood and hardware of the linen closet drawers.

But wait, there's more storage! The upstairs hallway has a huge extra closet, one that could pretty easily be turned into a laundry closet with a washer and dryer. Unbelievable for a 1923 house!

The closet extends all the way to the bedroom shown in back. The new owners might want to turn this into a laundry room space with a washer and dryer. Not too difficult since the bathroom plumbing is just behind this.

The upstairs bathroom needs a refresh but the tub appears to be original cast-iron enameled bathtub! And the tub has already been refinished in a cheery yellow. Lisa has a great plan for how to rework this bathroom. I'll give you befores-and-afters on that at a later date.

All in all, you can see why we bought the house, feeling confident that we can make this a great house for new neighbors. Because there's even a full bathroom in the basement, it's going to be sold as a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a fresh kitchen, fresh bathrooms, reworked landscaping, new electrical service, new central air, and tons of old wood charm – including in the form of a living 100-year-old oak and an equally grand black walnut.

Just a reminder that this Saturday (Feb. 17) we're having the "pick-over party" for friends and neighbors. Learn more.