Before poking its ribs and thumping its core, "I really lived in the house," Paul says, cohabiting for five years with its creaky beams, leaky windows, and quirky layout. Over the decades a kitchen and screened porch had been tacked on in back, and a one-story addition with a den, bedroom, and bath stuck on one side. Another bath had been inserted upstairs. To get to it from the master bedroom, you had two choices: Leap over the stairwell or go around it and bang your head on the sloped ceiling.
When Thompson finally opened up the cottage, he found not only bowed posts and tired joists ("precariously separate from the frame," in Paul's words), but a roof saddled by a heavy patchwork of cedar and asphalt shingles. A chimney was deteriorating, the basement was diminutive, and the floors were as off-kilter as the walls.
Shown: Outside of the cottage, before the renovation.