Monday, August 21, 2006
I know it's been ages since I threw the floor open for questions with my Virtual Press Conference. (Well, ok, not AGES, exactly, but it's been over a month.) I didn't forget the last couple of questions, I swear, I just got distracted and am just now getting back to this topic. So today I'm tackling the question from Corky. Corky asks: What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of? Oh, Corky. Not for me to answer you with a simple sentence or two...Noooooo. I have to write an essay! So here we go. I would have to say I'm most proud of having a big hand in remodeling our last house. That may seem like an odd answer, but doing a home remodel was soooooo far outside my experience and comfort zone at the time, and the house was such a wreck. In fact, we didn't plan to save the house at all. We bought the property for the land - 32 rolling, mostly-wooded acres - fully intending to tear down the horrid little shack that was on it and build something new. You can get an idea of how pretty the land is there by this photo taken the day we closed on the property: As far as the house, you can tell by the photo above that it's small and plain, but you can't see how truly horrendous it was until you see some close-ups. This is the front of the house on the day we bought it: Note the peeling paint and rusting roof, the rag-stuffed broken window right next to the window that's boarded over entirely, the knee-high weed-choked front yard, and the front door hanging about three feet in mid-air because someone tore off the front porch at some point and never replaced it. When we looked at it, our choices for how to get in and out were to either use the ladder that you see leaning against the house or to step over a 2 ft. tall pile of chicken shit on a side porch where the tenants had been using the porch as a chicken coop. We used the ladder. This is the back, where you can see the roof a little better and see that the last time the house was painted, long, loooog ago, they evidently ran out of paint just before they finished and just didn't ever bother to buy more: Here's the inside, showing the front door (the one with no steps leading to it!), the smoky little wood stove that was the only source of heat, and the door next to the stove, which was the only closet in the entire house. Plus on the right of the photo you can get a glimpse of the horror they referred to as a "kitchen." Oh yeah, and look at the floor. They'd painted all around the edges with porch paint, but ONLY the edges. Underneath that filthy who-knows-what-color-it's-supposed-to-be area rug, the floor was aged, unpainted pine: Below is a better look at the so-called kitchen. There was no stove, the refrigerator was broken, and the sink had a trickle of cold, muddy, unfiltered spring water, but no hot water because there was no hot water heater in the house. Also there was no bathroom, only an outhouse on the hill behind the house. Seriously. The photo below was taken standing in the living room, looking toward a couple of the bedrooms. I don't know how clear it is in the pic, but the ceiling and walls of the living room were all covered in cheap paneling, the only difference being that the ceiling was unpainted dark brown and the walls had been painted white - badly. You can just barely see through the door to the left that the walls of the bedrooms were tongue-in-groove boards that had been sort of whitewashed but otherwise unfinished. Well, all that is except this room (which ultimately became J's and my bedroom), where they'd evidently run out of the boards and two of the walls were covered in flattened cardboard boxes held up with masking tape: That's what we started with, folks - proof that someone, somewhere, will buy ANYTHING. As I said, our plan when we bought the place was to tear it down and start over, BUT... We discovered it had been a one-room schoolhouse built in the very early 1900's and only divided up and converted to house about mid-century and we thought that was pretty cool. We discovered that the floors were old wide-plank pine that had been treated with so many coats of linseed oil back in the day that they were incredibly tough. We discovered that the basic structure of the house was, amazingly, quite sound underneath all that ugliness. And we took a deep breath and made the decision to remodel instead of tear down. J and I did 90% of the work ourselves, with only a little help from his brothers. I did things to that house I'd never done before and wouldn't have figured I ever WOULD do! I tore down walls and helped build others. (BTW, I highly recommend tearing down walls as a stress-relieving exercise!) I put up siding. I helped tear off the old roof and put up the new one. I wired electrical outlets and phone jacks. I sanded and refinished floors. I taped, mudded, sanded, primed, and painted drywall. I designed the new kitchen, while J built all the cabinets from scratch out of recycled redwood lumber that used to be someone's privacy fence. The photo below is at about the halfway point of the remodel. At that point we'd slapped a coat of paint on both the old siding and old roof just so we could stand looking at them until we replaced them, and we'd replaced all the doors and windows and added a huge porch to the front: This is an inside shot of the halfway point of the kitchen remodel. The place where the bar and bar stools sit is where that wall with the wood stove used to be in the before photo. You can see we weren't done yet - notice the only partly mudded and sanded drywall and the bare wood of the trim around the door and window. In this photo you can also get a good view of the floors after we'd refinished them: Here's another view of the kitchen after it was pretty well done. This is looking from the living room side of what ultimately was the great room (that took up the whole front half of the house). You can see from the front door, which is open on the far left of the photo, that this is taken from only a slightly different angle than the before photo with the wood stove: And this next photo is taken from nearly the same angle as the living room shot above that shows the two doors. You can see a glimpse of our bedroom through the right-hand door. That's the room that used to have cardboard inner walls. We shifted the left-hand door slightly to the left to make space for a walk-in closet in our bedroom and the built-in bookshelf is what we put in the place of the old door: This is what the property looked like a year after we bought it. By that time we'd not only completely remodeled the interior, including such little amenities as a bathroom, hot water, and central heat/air, but we'd also replaced the siding and roof and added a large screened porch to the left of the original house: We lived there for five years. If we'd stayed, we'd have eventually built another addition - something the present owners did a couple of years ago. So there's my looooooong answer to your question, Corky. I'm proud of having taken a place that looked like it was good for nothing but a wrecking ball and had a hand in bringing it back to life. I even decided to make it the topic of today's Daily Art Thang. "Somerset Cottage"