Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lest anyone believe I am attempting to have my home show up on MTV cribs, I would like to give a “brief” description of what is going on in my home.

I have mentioned recent renovations once or twice lately. No, I am not having a granite quarry emptied for my personal satisfaction. I am not having a foyer enlaid with marble. Foyer? Ha!

Perhaps renovation is the wrong word. That might give the idea that I am installing a whirlpool in my marble bath, hanging Baccarat (sp?) chandeliers above my marble dining table, and installing French doors so my library appears symmetrical. NOT. Perhaps I should call this a restoration. But then one might think I am restoring a historically important manse on the Hudson River.

What my husband and I are doing is slowly putting back together a simple frame house. We live, with good and bad results, one-half block from the Penn State campus. When we purchased the house in 1997, it was in rough shape. The kitchen was a joke. The toilets pretended to flush, but only regurgitated. The full bath was a disaster (still is). Parts of the dining room ceiling hung down and flapped in the breeze. The furnace leaked oil (if you turned it on, it could have burned the house down, said one contractor). The house was heated by a woodstove (if you had lit a fire, you could have burned the house down, said another contractor.). We had emergency wiring done (if you had turned on this or that, said yet another contractor, you could have burned the house down).

The house burned partially down just a few years after it was built in 1937. I do hope that is the last time it burns.

Being a stones throw from campus, our house had been one of many that had fallen under disrepair from slum-lords. Our smallish house (1600 square feet + attic when we purchased it) had been divided up as a duplex. Much of that had been set right by the previous two owners of our home, but so many scars and deficiencies remained.

Within two weeks of “living” in the house we had . . . .

A new furnace
Removal of oil tank (they had to cut the sucker out – messy)
A new dining room ceiling
A water softener – the furnace guys would not install the new steam furnace unless we had a water softener
Asbestos abatement
New copper plumbing in basement and 1st floor.
Some new wiring to replace that old knob-and-tube.

At one point, we had three groups of contractors in the basement laughing at the situation. I cried at night, terrified my house would collapse, burn, or give me cancer.

All of this work (except the wiring) was a surprise.

Then there were those pesky cosmetic issues. The coffee stained walls. The previous owner had gone through a divorce. I assumed they threw coffee at each other. Windows that were broken (many still are). Windows that would not stay open. Windows that did not open. The remains of the flammable woodstove. The ceilings and walls throughout the house that were covered with soot. Broken cabinets. Holes cut into the ceiling so heat from the woodstove could flow upstairs. Other holes in ceilings. Rotten decking. Carpenter bees.

During the first two cold September weeks after we moved in (yes, often central PA can be cold at remarkable times) I sat on my front porch (which was fairly functional) and planned for my new kitchen, while workmen repaired the emergency items. (The outdoors was the only place that had lighting). I told my husband before we purchased the house, that the kitchen was a no go. It was to go the following year.

Well, I lied a bit about the lighting issue. There was a light in the kitchen. It was an old, wooden tool box hanging from a chain. Four holes had been drilled into the sides, and lightbulbs were screwed into these holes. There was no wall switch. There was a rusty knob at the bottom of the box, almost impossible to turn. But, before one could turn it, one had to get a cloth to grasp the knob with. Since I could barely reach the knob, I could not reach the lamp to prevent it from swinging away from me. A spatula, cooking spoon, or other handy utensil was necessary to hold the lamp still. The rest of the kitchen was on par with the light. It had to go. Along with the rotting deck and the carpenter-bee-damaged enclosed back porch.

What a joy it was, six months later, to have kitchen drawers that opened. Cabinets that were actually cabinets instead of false fronts for upstairs plumbing. A countertop. A back door that actually opened.

The former kitchen was gutted, painted, and used as an office as is, until three years ago when we had saved enough money to have some shelves built in. The present job is making the living room useful. My goal is to have some more shelves for books, a place to put the stereo (other than on top of a picnic bench), some reading lights, a couple of chairs to sit on to read, and finally, enough heat.

The next job will be to finally fix the upstairs bath. We were going to wait until we had saved enough for the job, but since the tub is leaking, the shower is leaking, the sink faucet is leaking, etc., I think it is going to be another emergency situation as the water damage is now showing up in the office and kitchen.

Our house means a great deal to us. We understand the economics of paint and slipcovers. We enjoy putting our lives, our books, our art into our home. 10.5 years down. Hopefully only a few more to go before the house is what it could and should be. It was a simple house to begin with. It still is. It just looks and performs a whole hell of a lot better.

While I do enjoy a room that is “finished” (ceilings, walls and floors intact, attractive and non-wobbly furniture), I would not call this process fun. I do feel it is important, though, to keep up our homes, neighborhoods and communities. I hate seeing a house allowed to disintegrate.

Who needs the Taj Mahal?!?


Nellie's Needles said...

I can't imagine what you're living through and still finding time and space to create. Or is the creating part escapism? Kudos for bringing your house back from the brink of disintegration.

Emily said...

Oh, my...and I thought we had it tough! lol! I can totally understand the leaky bathroom situation. We had this happen to our shower faucet. Apparently, it leaked more then we knew and filled up the kitchen ceiling, crashing down onto the floor (this was about 3 years ago)! Houses are not always the glamor stuff of magazines and are totally tied to how much we can do/pay for.

I'm still shocked that people would throw coffee at each other. Good grief! Hopefully, that negative energy is being removed with all the improvements you're making.