Upon inspecting the underpinnings of the house, what Helgesen and Mahar found was rot caused by termites—"the bugs love the sandy soil," says Mahar—as well as water damage. "The groundwater is so high in the dunes that there's always dampness and constant risk of flooding," says Helgesen, who for that reason planned to move the mechanicals to an attic space and install a sump-pump system and dehumidifiers in the basement.
The architect and builder made repairs, insect-proofed the old foundation, and built foundations for the additions. But Mother Nature seemed to have it in for them. The day after they poured one concrete slab, a low-pressure weather front blew in, followed by days and days of rain. "We tried pumping the water out of the basement, but the ground was so saturated, the water just washed back in," says Mahar. "We couldn't do anything for weeks."
That was the biggest fiasco on the project, but hardly its biggest challenge.
Shown: The vaulted cottage ceiling adds volume to the dining room. After the original dining alcove was merged with the living room, an addition with a dining room and breakfast area was grafted on. White paint and French doors help give the 144-square-foot dining room its spacious feel.