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Bring on the crazies

Our life has been flipped upside down by the shocking reality that Bob Villa so deceitfully presented as idyllic in his 45-minute segments of This Old House. You get into a remodel with lots of gung-ho, can-do attitude. It all gets torn apart easily. Optimism and work ethic prevail. Your swept up in the excitement of demo and major changes underway. We’ve sat on this 1950′s ranch-ish style duplex (with several odd additions), wrapped in it’s crappy grey-blue vinyl siding for three and a half years. Eager to change it. A space defined by dated features barely reminiscent of the pillbox duplex of yesteryear, suffering from poor execution of past construction work & off the shelf Home Depot-style finishes installed with little concern for usability that would drive anyone crazy. Going in we knew there were several things that needed to be improved upon. Things that to most people would be big setbacks, tons of effort. That’s why its previous owners jumped ship just short of doing any serious remodeling, adding to the layers of issues compounding together, devoid of any quality or livability. Most of which are actually very easy to repair, but seem more daunting than most would take on. The last owners had it right. Cover up the problems, rent it to college students, spruce up the interior & flip it. They made out pretty well from what the City’s Planning Department website reports. I wonder if they were the smarter party to get involved in this house. But then there is that dangerous little word, potential.

Yes, the house has a ton of potential. Honestly, the changes we are making are small, simple & smart. It will make huge changes to how the house functions, flows and looks. We are doing a ton for a very small sum, in the big scheme of things. Two new bathrooms. New kitchen. New dining room. New furnace & duct work. New plumbing. Overall we benefit from fixing everyone else’s mistakes because it offers a blank slate we both get to pare back and add on to. Originally we thought we would do the bigger ticket items in stages- one bathroom, then the next, then the kitchen- all while living around the work. But sometimes other people’s stupid mistakes change things for both the worse & the better all at the same time. The only permit pulled for the house in the past 20 years was by a landscape crew hired by the most recent previous owners who replaced the rockery in front of the house (which is hideous, btw). They started the work without a permit. Then broke the water main. Then were forced to not only get a permit, pay a fine, but to also replace the incoming waterline from the street to the main branch inside the house with new copper pipe. A good thing, as one would usually expect that water main to be old & weak, only they hooked it up that shiny new copper to an old existing galvanized pipe without the proper coupling, causing the new copper to corrode all the way back to the shut-off valve. Long story short, we didn’t know the extent of corrosion until getting plumbing bids & it forced us to re-evaluate the course of action for re-plumbing the entire house. The smartest move was to tear it all out & plumb in all new stuff in one fell swoop.

The plumber said it would take him 2-3 days but he would have to have the water shut off the entire time. So we decided to crash with some friends for a few days while there would be no water and no bathroom and no kitchen.

But then it took him 6, with a weekend in there. And the subfloor in one of the bathrooms was rotted out & slanting sideways, in need of repair and leveling before laying new tile, new drywall & expanding the square footage. So it’s been 2 weeks we’ve been ‘crashing’ with friends. And we still have no bathrooms. Or kitchen.

But so much has happened to this old house in that timeframe. Really, despite my frustration with feeling far more displaced than I anticipated, a lot has gotten done I wouldn’t have imagined would have gone so quickly: We tore out a hideous fireplace, which we’ve had covered up with a piece of masonite & never used. Along with that came up several layers of tile, brick & an ugly hearth allowing us to recapture about 5′ of space in the dining room. Up came all the hardwood floors back there, which had been damaged by a fire escaping said fireplace & covered up by said tile. The hardwoods were nailed down with fat framing nails, so unfortunately couldn’t be salvaged. Up came the horrible linoleum tiles in the kitchen, which were peeling up in the corners and had been laid upon layers of older linoleum, plywood & patches of other flooring. All the subfloor in the kitchen had to be replaced & leveled, now it awaits new black slate tile. The drywall in the dining room has been torn off, revealing one of the bad additions and much to our surprise, the walls are framed for both a door behind the fireplace (where we have plans to put a door out onto the back deck) and a large window in nearly the exact same dimensions as the window we bought to put there, opening the entire back of the house visually to the backyard. Oddly, someone, somewhere along the line, decided to make the window openings smaller, go figure. Same thing between the kitchen & living room, where we have had a tiny 30″ opening we have opened up to create a more fluid floorplan and discovered a big header framing in what used to be a pocket door, saving us from having to completely reframe three of these walls. The kitchen will get an overhaul, adding tons of new cabinets and countertop on both sides, opposed to the one small strip we have had with it’s measly 2 square feet of usable counter space. We have also found a home for the refrigerator by taking out an unreinforced 3 story masonry chimney, imploded in on itself by knocking brick by brick from the top down with pneumatic hammer in about 3 hours. Both bathrooms were side-by-side, one with a 21″ door the other 25″. One has been closed off from the living room, increased in size reclaiming some wasted space at the base of the stairs into the attic & it’s entrance changed to become a master bathroom. It will sport a double vanity, new potty & large walk-in shower, a piece of the remodel & am personally very excited to take advantage of.

Big picture- some amazing changes will transform our house and the way we live in it. Of course, all remodels have their setbacks, their frustrations, their constraints. Right now the only thing inhibiting us from moving back in and living in meager existence in the house is needing to install a new toilet & sink in one of the bathrooms- An endeavor suffering numerous setbacks from a gas leak to the pukey flu. Trial that expose my desire to skip to the end, wanting things to just be DONE & lacking in long endurance when things don’t go as neatly as planned. Our house is literally torn apart, not a single space has eluded being affected by the work. Everything, I mean EVERYTHING is covered in a thick layer of demo & drywall dust. It’s crazy to walk through the space & realize nearly half the house is stripped down to an odd hodge-podge of raw studs- some dull & old, some fresh & new. Yes, we will attempt to live there sans kitchen, sans flooring, sans electricity in half the house with a ton of work needing attention. Living in chaos is not new to me. We’ve been through several remodels, both in our house & others we have worked on. The girls seem to be far more adapt than I am proving to be. I doubt right now my ability to decide it is actually a wise idea to expect to live in the space as it is right now with things coming back together as slowly as they are. It seems I am the least able to go-with-the-flow. Matt says he would be fine living there without a bathroom and he’s already proven he’s fine to pee in the girls’ little potty. I, on the other hand, would die of toxicity from constipation. But really, I SAY I can roll with all the crazies this kind of stuff brings on, even in the face of the facts our timeline is not moving forward as we thought it would my control freakish tendencies rear their ugly heads. A lesson in humility, dependence & receiving grace. Things get thrown off, that is to be expected. It’s always hard right in the middle of the race to imagine ever having the finish line in sight and far too easy to get dismayed you’ll never finish. But what did I really expect? Honestly I think it has been best to hammer it out even if it means displacement & a season of uncertainty.

I know what lies at the other end (we did, after all, pick out all the finishes, hardware & design elements currently sitting in boxes awaiting install). And I await in eager anticipation being able to actually USE them. Ah yes, that amazing 36″ rectangular stainless steel undermount kitchen sink that will make my dish-doing experience SO much more efficient. That’s all just waiting for me… as soon as we install slate, cabinets, fabricate door fronts, pour a concrete countertop, mud & texture walls, paint and move all our kitchen gadgets back out of boxes stacked in the nursery… you know how it goes.

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