AKJ Architects LLC

Old Fir’s New Home

In today’s story, Old Fir completes its transformational journey and joins an ensemble cast including windows, shingles, lighting, address numbers, a flag holder, and a new deck with a gate in a front-wall beach cottage upgrade and remodel.

Old Fir coming home

We’re excited to give you an update on our friend Old Fir, who was the star of our story about reuse back in June 2022. If you haven’t read that blog post yet, check it out here to get all caught up. In today’s story, Old Fir completes its transformational journey and joins an ensemble cast including windows, shingles, lighting, address numbers, a flag holder, and a new deck with a gate in a front-wall beach cottage upgrade and remodel. 

Now that we’re officially in the summer season, it’s the perfect time to check in to see where Old Fir has ended up – now an appropriately painted green door matching the asphalt roof shingles with a big bright polished brass knob for our sweet beach cottage in Long Beach, Washington. Our beloved little getaway for the last 14 years, it was built in 1965, and I’ve been making small architectural changes throughout the years. I love the work and have enjoyed turning this into our cozy and cute beach getaway. Working on our own personal projects has been a big part of the fun for me. Work has been gradual on this little cottage, a place we love to get away from it all, cook homemade meals, play board games, read and read more, enjoy the local community, eat ice cream Sundays, and go on beautiful beach walks with our dog. Whether it’s raining, sunny or boasting a big rainbow, the beach environment is so relaxing – Until the front door starts falling apart, that is.

Beach Cottage before remodel.

A New Project Begins

Don’t get me wrong, over the years we’ve had plenty of projects here – starting with the bathroom, the door that was kicked in one winter, the gas leak, the roof leak at the skylight, and the typical usual ongoing small maintenance tasks we try to schedule when we visit – sweeping, weeding, and various painting projects. But the beach-facing west exterior wall takes an especially hard beating from annual wind-driven storms that pummel the Pacific coastline of southern Washington between October and May each year. For our cottage, the front door was the weakest link. We left it for years before being forced to repair it with epoxy to ‘essentially’ hold it together. That lasted for a while, but honestly, a neighbor said it best, “When are you going to replace that door? – Because it’s falling apart.” 

The old door was the weakest link

OK, time to do this and do it well! The cottage is a 510 square foot, one bedroom building. Not huge. The size of a small apartment. While it may seem a smaller project would require less design, that’s not really the case. In fact, according to Portuguese architect, Alvaro Siza, “It is said that I design in cafes. That I am an architect of small works… I think if I am not mistaken, the small ones are the most difficult.” Making the most of absolutely every square inch in a small space takes plenty of design. Clearances are tight so dimensions are crucial, and placement with an eye on design just makes things look right. Concerns about doors bumping into other things affect the design which is sketched out with elevations. 

Beyond the door, we knew we’d need new windows as our intention was to make the entire front exterior wall waterproof to handle the strong rains for at least the next 20 years. New wood shingles would be part of the plan. 

Another fun reuse element that went into the design was the exterior decorative sconce. I purchased the vintage 1960s sconce on January 7, 2021, from Second Use here in Seattle. It was the right size, rated for wet conditions, and it had the right look with the brass finish matching the new doorknob on Old Fir and the big brass address numbers we chose. As a bonus, this little brass sconce fulfilled the extra code requirement for exterior stair lighting. It was all coming together before construction even started. 

We knew that updating the front deck was going to be an important part of this remodel. The existing deck stairs were rickety, and the railing wasn’t going to hold anyone up if a lot of force was put on it. A gate for the deck was also key, as we’d been using a repurposed baby gate to keep our dog in. 


Once we had drawings, a foundation planned and details drawn up, Old Fir was worked into the design. Old Fir got extra special attention with a trim and sanding, a new coat of paint, and a beautiful new brass doorknob to replace the old one. 

We definitely ran into some quirks in this project. There are always challenges on some level. Things that are off center, elements that interfere with each other, etc., but we masked the quirks during design so they wouldn’t be distracting. Once the design process was completed, it was handed over to the contractor and we watched them put it all together.  

Final Outcome

Now we have that feeling you get when things are new and complete. The stairs and rails on the new deck are solid, the gate is wonderful, and our precious pup can be out there worry free with unlimited access to sunbathing and people watching. New life has been brought into the building and Old Fir stands gloriously amidst the final project. We plan to have shutters made for Old Fir, to keep this door in good shape for a long, long time. And eventually we’ll update each side of the building to match. The brass sconce stays on at night and think it’s cute as a button!

The geometry of the project is not perfect – it never was. It brings to mind, however, the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi where absolute geometry is not needed in every detail to achieve beauty. This cottage has the beautiful off-center door, windows that aren’t balanced, a flag hanging centered on the roof ridge, and a single light to the side. The deck functions well for a round table that seats four. And while it’s not perfect, it is perfect for us. The neighbors walking down the street can’t say enough nice things about how we brought vibrant life back into this neglected beach cottage door and wall.

With the project complete we’re now ready for the summer season and will be adding a table and chairs, a blue and white tablecloth, stars and maybe even our half round American flag bunting on the rail. We’re looking forward to enjoying our meals on the new deck while looking festive and American. As time goes on, the cedar shingles and railing will eventually fade to grey, and the door will pop with it’s pretty green. It feels great to be done and we’re wishing you a fantastic summer in your special relaxing space!

Arlene Kisiel-Jermann

Arlene brings over twenty-five years of design experience to her company. As a professional who strives to provide exceptional customer service, creative design skills, and an eye for detail, AKJA has the experience and training to lead your residential project from concept through completion.

Arlene received her Master in Architecture Degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her Master in Science in Interior Design from the University of Massachusetts and her Bachelor degree from Skidmore College with a major in Art & minor in Spanish. Arlene's combination of creative degrees in Architecture, Interior Design and Fine Art give her a holistic approach to residential design and enable her to quickly comprehend and efficiently collaborate with other professionals. At MIT, she coupled her studies with graduate courses at the MIT Center for Real Estate where she studied business. Since a young age, Arlene has had numerous academic opportunities to travel throughout America, Europe and Asia and learn about art and culture throughout the world.

Since 1987, Arlene has been privileged and trusted to work on residential and commercial projects with multi-million dollar budgets. She has managed all phases of residential design, architecture, and construction for well-established Seattle architecture firms such as Sullivan Conard Architects, NBBJ, and General Contractor Toth Construction, a Seattle based custom residential builder. Arlene launched her own firm in 2007 to design new and renovated homes, cabins and condominiums ranging in size from 500sf to 10,000sf. She brings passion, creativity, a commitment to succeed, and a powerful blend of skills, education and experience to every residential architecture project.

Stacey Lara

Stacey Lara has a wide range of experience specializing in efficiency and human wellness. She's a transformational coach with an administrative background in the medical, engineering, landscape architecture and architecture industries.

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