Sunday, January 27, 2008

Making a Home vs. Managing a Home


The landscaper took one look at those hedges, sighed, and told me "Do yourself a favor and rip them out this weekend."


Today I put on shitty jeans and a weird orangey-pink t-shirt and I set out with a soapy bucket of water and a super, super long extendable squeegee and I washed the windows of my house. You know when it's still winter, but you start to pretend it's spring because the sun actually bothered to come out and you actually had to squint at that rare orb for the first time in four months? It was that kind of day.

So there I am, facing the tall side of my 2 storey brick house and I am washing the windows, and this is the conversation I am having in my head, unedited:

"I wonder how much window washers cost? I could hire someone. Although, I am not sure why because I don't really mind doing this. But it's not the *minding* part that's bad, it's that I could be doing something else...more useful... I could be digging up beds... oh crap, I need to review the proposal from the landscaper designer.... I can't believe she only designs... Does that mean she works up the plan and then *I* dig the beds and plant? That seems backward. Maybe I should plan it and then hire those guys from Casa Latina to help dig beds and plant.... Don't forget to pay the Chase bill... Is it bad to hire guys from Casa Latina?... how soon can I plant hydrangeas. FUCK. If I am only going to plant hydrangeas, why do I need a landscape designer? Should I open my business? I have been planning for 3 years, I can't stop now... But all that money... I could just hire someone to DO ALL THIS SHIT FOR ME and I wouldn't be washing the outside of windows on a Sunday..."

It goes on and on. Here's the good news. At one point, washing the windows, I was sincerely having a nice little conversation with myself, thinking, I love that I am out here laboring, washing these windows. My first house, despite all the things that need to be done to it, is better than any house I ever thought I would own. I am lucky I get to wash these windows. People actually take nice little strolls in my neighborhood. They always do, every weekend, even when it's cold. Where I grew up, no one did that. People lived sad lives, kind of secluded. Strolls need prettiness to make it worthwhile, and there wasn't much prettiness in my 'hood.

So here I am, in this house that has a want for every room. And I've written about it before. We bought our house via fax while traveling in New Orleans. It was a sellers' market at the peak of the housing frenzy. We bought the shittiest house in a good neighborhood, but oh, lord, this house needed love. It still does. So, so much, I cannot even tell you.

And that's where I am at with my house, in this love/hate relationship.

How many of the projects in your home are you willing to do yourself vs. hire out? The point of having a fixer is reaping some of the financial gain by doing it yourself. But I have a job, and so does he. And next month I will be traveling for work 15 days of the month. When exactly am I going to tackle these DIY projects? And how can I possibly justify starting my own business when I could take the money I've saved and just write a check to a contractor and have the kitchen and 2 baths done by late spring? Aaaaaarrrggghh. I don't know. I don't know the answers.

Our kitchen had subfloor when we bought it. SUBFLOOR. When we toured the house, it was filthy and foul. There was a days-old fish left sitting in a dirty castiron pan on a circa-1949 stove. (I later learned that in bringing the electrical somewhat up to code so that the mortgage company could even write a loan on the place, it had been incorrectly rewired. I learned this because once we moved in I decided to bake something and upon opening the oven, the ovenlight exploded and shot glass everywhere. Home sweet home, right?).

The kitchen has formica counters and horrible bright yellow walls. The faucet will shoot water in your face if you move it too far to the right. The former owner patched a part of the deteriorated counter with - yes - weather stripping.

I am not kidding.

One night, no long after we bought the place, we had friends over and Christine (one of the friends) and I just stood there, drinking too much wine, reveling over how foul the kitchen was and we pealed off large skins of that yellow paint. We just laughed because it was assumed this nearly-condemned kitchen would surely be redone that year. Well, that was 2 1/2 years ago. Remember... every room is a major project - the kitchen being the worst of all. That wild patch of peeled paint causes my fiance much consternation. It is, in fact, the only thing in the house that we have done to make the place worse - - something we thought hardly possible at all.



My house has been a lesson in patience, and compromises. And also denial. Things I thought, in my own bitchy way, that I wouldn't TOLERATE for more than the first six month persist, and I have learned to live with.

My bathroom, for example? The tile is plastic. I know. It makes you want to cry, huh? It used to make me want to. I actually did cry in the shower once. I was wishing I had my apartment back. It's so easy to make a one-bedroom apartment perfect. But 4 bedrooms, a living room, a proper dining room, wiring from 1929, old molding that needs to be stripped and re-stained, and a kitchen that hasn't been re-thought since it was built, and lovely plaster ceilings that someone stupidly covered with popcorn asbestos 30 years ago? I never knew how much it would take. Anyway, those plastic "tiles" in my shower? They started falling off about a year after we moved in. My fiance (he's so great, I can't begin to tell you), he taped one back up. I can see him doing it, too... like "Oh, I'll just tape it. Lainy will be bummed if this shit starts falling in on her in the shower." And you know what? I love him for it.

He's not the house freak that I am. It really troubles me to my core to not have the place be perfect in my eyes, but I am trying to live with it. The plastic tiles... I am actually totally zen about it now.

We sat on the sofa today and we peered into the kitchen and I said, "If we just tile the floor, repaint, get a new counter, sink & faucet, and get new cabinet pulls... can we just forget about it until we decide to really redo it, just spend like $100k all at once to fix a bunch of stuff?"

And he said, "Yeah. I'd rather do that." Right then, the house won.

The house won because some homes are just not ready for a DIY fix. Some homes are grumpy old dowagers and they want you to quit putting popcorn on the ceiling and they don't want you putting up plastic crap-ass tile. They want you to go to work, make your money, come home one day and say, "See this fist full of money? Fine, you stupid motherfucker, you can have it all."

So there you go. I guess the answer is that you make a home as long as you can - - until you can't anymore. And then you just have to cough up the money and hand your place over to contractor who will make sure the kitchen doesn't explode in your face and the shower tiles don't fall on your feet when you're doing nothing more than getting ready to face another day.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

The happiest moment in this post is when you and your girlfriend were peeling off the old paint and laughing. That's the stuff that makes a house valuable. The rest is details.

d. Sharp said...

Love this post. Our first house was a hovel with potential - we had to pay cash for it, no bank would touch it - my mom burst into tears when she saw the hole in the kitchen ceiling. It is amazing what lessons a house can teach you, or like you said, what you can learn to be zen about.

Suzy said...

Its amazing what you'll put up with in a house because its yours! I did the same thing with our place.

Jules said...

Great post. Be glad you at least have money in site. When we bought ours, I was working. Now that I'm not we don't know when we'll have the money to fix all we have left to do, i.e., the pink bathroom, the yellow bathroom, the Captain Caveman fireplace, and, of course, the finishing touches in our kitchen remodel. That is, if you consider casings, baseboards, and a back splash finishing touches.

But even so, I'd never leave this house. We just love it, grandma wallpaper and all.

pve design said...

Sweat Equity.

DIY (do it yourself) is part of making your house a home. Plus think of all those before and after shots.
Good for you that you washed your own windows!
Paying someone to do a 1/2 a--ed job is not the least bit satisfying.

Tara said...

The first house my husband and I bought when we were married was an 1865 colonial that was in such bad shape noone would stop to trick or treat even tho I had bags and bags of candy. We worked on it steadily for 8yrs. When we had the money, we did stuff. When we did not have the money, we coasted. 8 yrs. later we sold it and made a great profit and bought a beautiful home. Many of our friends were still on house #1 and could not believe the profit we made or our new house. They said they used to talk about us after they left out home, behind our backs, thinking we were crazy living in that dump. That really would've hurt if I'd known, but as a friend said, who really had the last laugh? Stick to it, in the end it is so worth it!

LondonCalling said...

Living in it while renovating frankly, bites. Our house while having so much 20's charm shiplap wall throughout. Will demoed the drywall out of the whole house to put in new electrical and put modern insulation (I like to call that reinventing the wheel). 5uncharecteristic months of rain followed by 2 pipes breaking under the house so we can't level it so still no drywall. Looks like we live in a log cabin on the inside, NEVER thought it would go on for that long. But we love it. Although I'm not always zen about it.

adeleno5 said...

I was so distracted this morning by the fact that my hideous avocado shower tiles are loose again which causes a leak into my neighbor's bathroom and the fact that I have to turn the hot water on and off under the kitchen sink before and after using the cursed shower(it's long story)...that I forgot to brush my teeth before leaving for work. Thank you for writing about your kitchen and bath issues because it makes me feel better that I am not the only one. My apartment was built in 1918and it is has charm to spare, but it also has scary things like old wiring and decaying walls underneath 5 layers of wallpaper AND wood veneer paneling. I love it for it's potential, and the fact that it's all mine, and I hate it because it's a mess and it's all mine.

Who Sees the Seven... said...

Having never set foot inside your house I felt as if I was there and peeling the paint and staring at the loose tiles with you. Patience I guess is a virtue when it comes to a house makeover? I shall remember this post forever, when one day I am lucky enough to own my home (and not rent an apartment) and be able to wash my own windows and plant flowers in my yard...ahhh, a girl can dream right?

Kim said...

Thank you for posting this. It could not have come on a better morning for me.

This made me laugh and cry all at once.

Decorno said...

All these comments have been so helpful. It's so good to know we are not alone.

And Tara - - your comment - - that is us for sure! I know my friends think our place is a dump. I just hope that in a few years we will have the last laugh to (all the way to the bank, if we're lucky.)

Jennifer said...

made me laugh and cry too, Kim.

We're hoping to find ourselves in a similar situation soon, but the upcoming decisions are all very, very daunting.

Something to keep in mind: you can change the house, but you can't change the neighborhood. Sounds like the one you've got is a gem worth hanging on to and giving a little shine when you can.

Meg said...

Hee. My stove is from the early fifties, the windows are also early fifties style picture windows with aluminum frames, the bathroom is uber-fifties pink tile... and every time we have enough money in hand to think about doing some work, I ask "do we want to re-do this, or take a rocking trip?" We're going to Rome this spring, so you can probably guess what we do when presented with the option to remodel. On the plus side, I am handy with paint brushes, shovels and tools that don't involve plumbing and wiring.

SGM said...

We had plastic tile too! But ours was in the kitchen. Aqua tile, with mismatched cabinets and brown linoleum (asbestos underneath, of course!).
It was such a great house and great neighborhood, but too much on the border of a bad neighborhood, so we got out.
I know exactly how you feel, Decorno. Hang in there!

Lisa & Alfie at The Pickled Hutch said...

Back away from the bucket, go immediately inside and make a big pitcher of margaritas in that kitchen of yours. You own it and that is the most important. You will have before and after pictures to look back on and be proud of. And it won't look like you moved into an instant PB catalog. Friends who are friends will appreciate that you still invite them to your "home" which is definitely more valuable than a house!

Jean said...

I think your landscaper is right about those hedges--depending, or course on whether something hideous is lurking behind them). They ruin the lines of your beautiful home. (But I'm a total chicken about destroying plants.)

That peeled paint in the kitchen looks like a dragon. Add some eyes, scales, a big curling tongue...

Habitually Chic said...

I guess I should be thankful for my small one bedroom apartment with actual ceramic tiles! Just kidding. Your house looks cute. Quirks and all. But could you peel the rest of the yellow paint off of the kitchen cabinets and paint them white? I'd offer to help if I lived closer. I love painting!

Decorno said...

:) Oh, believe me... we're going to do a quickie paint job in a few weeks.

I wish you lived closer, too. I need all the help I can get!

Anonymous said...

hold on to the vision, its worth it. Im MARRIED to a contractor.. basically I couldnt hire if I wanted to. DAMN!!

Linda said...

O my goodness, I couldn't read your entire post. Brought back too many memories of 30 years worth of renovation and internal conversations.

paola said...

I shudder every time I look see the forest green formica countertops in our kitchen and BATHROOM. With contrasting orange walls.

They ARE going this year

drwende said...

If it's a job requiring specialized skills, hire it done by someone who will do it right. The next owners will thank you.

Otherwise, it's a question of how you maximize your value. If you earn more than the cost of professional repairs, then it makes little sense to forgo your own earnings for the simple virtues of DIY.

katiedid said...

Oh Decorno.... we are experiencing your future. We, too, have an old dowager. And it is funny that you describe it that way, because that is exactly how I have always thought of our house. Ours was built in 1911 and the kitchen was impossible. We, too, thought we would fix it all right away. Well....five years later, and we are approaching the end of our remodel. I say approaching, because I think this house has a life of it's own sometimes. It definitely has some opinions about how things should be done, and right now she (read "I") am not at all happy ( read "pissed) about some structural problems that our !@#$% contractor has created.
I am now in the middle of drawing up a very legalez-ish letter which will open up a whole can of (fill in the blank here)with our contractor.

Hang in there. I am sending good vibrations your way. You have inspired me: I will try and dig up our "befores" to post soon. :)

Melissa Huskey said...

I'm right there with you. I went to design school and would rather cut off a finger than have a visitor to my home. My fiance went with the worst house/best neighborhood idea over 10 years ago. He then proceeded to move in 3 of his closest friends (they were all bartenders) Do you see a problem? Fast forward about 7 years and all the guys have moved on and married and here I come. Honest to God there was a hole in the kitchen floor where you could see daylight. Oh, and there was CARPET in the kitchen, FROM 1959!!! Three years later and a shitpot of money and it still isn't finished, but we love the house. We have done a lot of the things ourself, even though our house is one of those that DEMAND that you hire a contractor (Our house and us fight, A LOT). We can only hope and pray that someday our house loves us as much as we love it...

Decorno said...

Melissa, that is hysterical. :)

I am so glad I am not alone....

Anonymous said...

Melissa is a goddess of bloggin' commentary!

casacaudill said...

i could have written your post - only instead of peeling yellow paint in the kitchen with my friend it was a popcorn wall in the living room with my husband. yes, someone put that hideous popcorn shit on one wall in the living room. i'll never understand why the people who lived here before us were so mean to this house. we too have grand plans for the kitchen and the bathroom. grand plans that involve a lot of time which we don't seem to have any of. so we live with the poltergeist faucet and our knees hitting the bathtub when we sit down to use the toilet. ahhh, the things we do for love.

Kristin said...

I coulnd't have said this better. this is exactly how I feel about my old new house. its a craptastic house, and I love it. It has had no love for several decades (worth past owners ever) and it shows. my poor house has many inperfections, problems, and even a few places where I would rather torch it than look at it. But we (my husband and I) bought it knowing it needed love, and money$. but hey itsn't that what we all need? love and money - We just share it with our houses is all. Good luck, and btw: my house is winning too.

sarah said...

Same here: great bones, totally neglected, great neighbohood. Though we put up with our pink & silver plastic tiles for 3 years, the bathroom is now done - and most of the house is actually done (99% of the work done ourselves). I get a little worried, though, because I've realized that I secretly don't want to pull the paneling out of my study anymore - one of our last rooms to do - it's kind of gotten in a bit and won my heart. It'll go eventually - but I bet it will be a bit of a sad day and I'll clandestinely miss it.

S. said...

I have DIY home envy.

I think I was born with it -- my mom says she knew I had what she didn't when at 4 years old I told her that her new dress made her look like a pregnant easter egg.

When my parents renovated their circa 1968 with a half-assed renovation job circa 1981 kitchen a few years ago, I spent most of my vacations from college with the contractors, the cabinetry guys, and the appliance people at Sears. I loved it. My parents love beautiful things, but my they can't seem to "see" it before it's grown to fruition. It was so much fun working on the layout of the kitchen, picking out the cabinets (dark cherry shaker-style with matching wood spherical pulls), the countertops (dark green granite with streaks of yellowy-peach and white), the appliances, and the paint color ("the color of really lovely gourmet lobster bisque").

Every day I wish I could own my tiny apartment -- I would rip out walls, put in a great walk-in closet, fix the awkward kitchen, strip and refinish the floors, rewire so that the switches connected to outlets, scrape the asbestos off the ceiling, etc.

Basically, I wish I could tackle your projects with you, but for now, I'll live vicariously through you.

I dream of powertools.

Sorry, I think I just spilled my "I dream of a day when I can do this stuff all the time" guts on your blog.

Why didn't I just major in architecture? If I weren't so young and afraid of not having a job and feeling like I should stick with my nerdy, secure teacher job, I'd work my ass off to become an architect.

*sigh*

MLE said...

A family friend, upon moving into their lovely Victorian, tore off a broad swath of the garish red velvet flocked FLORAL wallpaper by the entry, pledging that would be the first thing to go. That was 20 years ago. So maybe 2.5 years ain't bad?

The alternative to all of this? A McMansion. Or a condo. Or any clone house neighborhood. Barf.

So I say the house wins. But so do you.

The Avarice said...

Hysterical. My fiance and I just bought our first house and this post made me feel so much better about our situation! (sorry!!) We sat here belly laughing while reading your post! It does seem that homes test their new residents without fail and having moved a lot as a child, I have so many memories of my mom wrestling with lighting fixtures, old wallpaper, and faulty appliances. Keep on keepin' on though, it will pay off. Thanks for this post- it is an absolute classic!