A cottage in the woods

When guests stand by the lamppost on the property of Kim and Ray Faiola, the pitter-patter of feet t

‘And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her. . . . She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch, over the snow and through the wood towards the other light. In about 10 minutes she reached it and found that it was a lamppost. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamppost in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter-patter of feet coming towards her.’

From C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’

When guests stand by the lamppost on the property of Kim and Ray Faiola, the pitter-patter of feet they’re likely to hear belong to the couple’s lovable dog, Rudy. When the Faiolas are expecting guests, you won’t find them hastily straightening up a spare room, throwing a set of sheets on a sofa sleeper or inflating an air mattress.

Instead, when guests arrive, Rudy greets them and shows the way to the always-ready guest quarters — a tiny cottage that mirrors the design of their main house, which Faiola built in 1984.

At first, Kim thought that building the little 524-square-foot structure would be a good “diversion” for Ray, a self-employed electrical contractor whose usual fare was heavy-duty commercial jobs. She thought that it would be a good way to ease him back into residential work. Besides, the couple has a lot of friends and family who visit, and a guest cottage would be ideal.

‘Micro cottage’

They had the space on their lot, which is at the end of a road in the woods. “It just kind of begged for it,” Ray said.

So he searched the Internet and found a plan for a “micro cottage” by the New Jersey-based Sheldon Designs.

“It just fit — the property and the aesthetics,” Ray said.

The couple had to clear the land first. A friend with a portable saw mill helped turn the trees into 2,000 board feet of lumber. But they weren’t able to use this wood in the cottage because it wasn’t seasoned yet. Ray will use it for future projects, such as his furniture-making.

Family members helped Ray with the construction. His brothers, Wayne and Jerry, assisted with the framing and foundation. The couple’s son, Jesse, helped with wallboarding and siding. One of Ray’s friends who is a plumber lent his expertise.

The Faiolas used some of the same utilities as their home. The cottage shares the same septic system and electric hookup. Hot water comes from a propane heater outside the cottage, and the water supply is a shallow well point about 20 feet below the surface. A huge aquifer under the property allowed them to use a point rather than having to drill for a well.

A gas stove provides heat for the structure. It’s the focal point of the small living room, which has a love seat and chair in it, as well as two small tables.

Kim used many items from their home to decorate the cottage, some of which have sentimental meaning, including an afghan crocheted by Ray’s mother that hangs over the back of the chair, and stuffed animals that his mother sewed.

From the outset, the Faiolas’ philosophy for building and decorating was simple: “The least amount of money with the most efficiency.”

Fortunately, many of items of decor taken from their main home fit nicely with the European country decor. They also kept costs down by using leftover building materials, such as the leftover vinyl siding a friend gave them for the cottage’s exterior.

Inside the cottage, everything was planned to maximize the space, including the use of an apartment-size refrigerator and stove.

Let there be light

The south-facing wall has a bay window for maximum sunlight. The floor is oak, a hardwood, and the ceiling of the living room is tongue-in-groove 2-by-6 planks that are also the floor of the loft upstairs.

Ray’s brother Wayne took some of the wood that had been cut down on the property last year and created hand-carved trim board that Ray then installed on the underside of the exposed beams in the living room, adding an elegant touch to the rusticity of the cottage’s French country style.

Other elements, such as the door to a storage closet, one that the couple recycled from their son’s former bedroom in their home and Ray finished with a distressed finish, add to the rustic design. Ray also put a faux finish that mimics stone on the upper half of one wall, and distressed beaded board that was left over from what he used on the ceiling of the porch.

A door to the right of the kitchen leads to a hatch that allows access to a 5-foot-high crawl space underneath the house. Just to the right of the front door is a full bathroom.

The stairs leading up to a loft are painted with a pale green milk paint, an old-fashioned painting technique that has been revived to accompany the popular faux finishes we see today.

The loft has a full bed, a full closet and three windows that face the south to provide a beautiful view of the neighboring woods. In the fall, when the trees are full of leaves, the view is even more striking.

What started out as a small project turned out to be a big undertaking.

Tight quarters

“Halfway through I thought, ‘What was I thinking?’ ” joked Ray of the 9-month project, which took place from April through December in 2006. “Just because something’s small doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It’s actually harder, because you’re working in small quarters.”

His insistence on perfection didn’t speed the process along, either. Kim points out all the detail work with pride, such as back banding on the molding and corner corbels. On more than one occasion, he redid things to get them exactly right, so, as Ray says, they were all “plumb, level and square.”

Passers-by were very curious about what was going on during the construction and would watch Ray’s progress.

“What are you doing?” they would ask.

One person, after seeing the hole dug for the foundation, thought it might be a small swimming pool. Once they saw it finished, others said that it reminds them of the little cottage in the woods in the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Now that it’s built, in addition to being the perfect place for guests, the cottage has also become an investment for the couple’s children for the future as well as a legacy of Ray’s craftsmanship.

The Faiolas gave the cottage a name, “Lantern Waste,” which comes from one of Ray’s favorite books, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” one of the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Narniaophiles recognize that Lantern Waste is the wooded area where the children first entered Narnia, a place of peace and rest (after being saved by Aslan). “That’s what we want this to represent,” Kim said. “We want guests to have a respite and experience Narnia.”

To go along with the cottage’s name, there is a lantern out front and a string of mini lantern lights hung around the porch.

Categories: Life and Arts, Schenectady County

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