January 25, 2012
Island Living: Lessons to be learned
from renovating or repairing your house


So it started with a spot.

On some nondescript morning, I walked into our downstairs bathroom and noticed a small black spot on the wall that hadn’t been there before. Foggy and uninterested, I paid it little attention and went about my normal morning routine.

You see, our house is what polite people would call a “fixer-upper,” which we have named “The Shellhole.” It’s not that it’s a bad house. It’s just one of those homes where there are always a couple minor outstanding issues that need attention – like a door that sticks, or a crack in the wall, or a wine rack that is mysteriously missing a bottle or three. (I plead the fifth on that one.)

So the black spot that decided to show up didn’t cause me much concern. It was in our “guest” bathroom after all, and, frankly, we don’t have a lot of guests due to the aforementioned issues. (Also, a house with two smokers, one dog, four cats, and one woman who works from home and  doesn’t shower as much as she probably should doesn’t always smell that great to visitors.)

But a couple weeks later, the spot had not only found some other black-spot buddies that showed up to hang out in our bathroom, but a brown stain had drifted upwards, and the popcorn ceilings started to drop down in coaster-sized pieces, revealing a complimentary brown slimy layer underneath.

Well, now, this can’t be good.

So I did what any other rational person would do and ignored it for a few days more, because when the going gets tough, the un-tough stick their head in the sand like an ostrich.

But, finally, it got to the point where the black spots were having a full-fledged family reunion in the bathroom, and something had to be done. So we started to remove the drywall, cautiously at first, thinking smugly to ourselves “How bad can it be?”

It turns out you should never, ever ask that question. Ever.

As we tore away the walls, we discovered four different leaks and slimy walls that spider-webbed all over the house, deep into the kitchen, and into the cabinets. The mold even inched upstairs to the other bathroom, and spread to a hidden creepy closet I didn’t even realize existed.

So our little black spot problem had suddenly morphed into a mold infestation and an immediate need for a new kitchen, two new bathrooms, a partial new living area, and a new creepy mystery closet.

And after this discovery, several more bottles went missing from the wine rack. (I plead the fifth yet again.)

Soon, thereafter, we called our good friend and contractor Mikey David to come out and give us a professional opinion, which basically was an elongated version of “yikes.”

And a couple days after that, we found ourselves in a home with no walls, no toilets, no shower, and a giant hole in the house that went from the top floor to the sandy ground underneath.

Lesson learned? Remodeling is a real pain in the butt and is totally meant for people who can’t figure out how to start a fire and make it look like an accident.

In those first days of our remodeling adventure, I remembered a time a year or two ago when I had walked into the house to find the dryer inexplicably puffing out large clouds of black smoke and sparks that filled the whole house. At the time, we had just redone our drainage field, and I was not too happy with our home, and I spent a good 60 seconds standing there thinking, “I could just walk away…. No one would see me… and a new life would begin, sans The Shellhole.”

Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it -- my neighbor, Captain Obvious, spotted me and said, “Hey, looks like there’s a problem with your dryer!” and the fantasy was dissolved.

Now, before I go any further, I’d like to point out that our contractor, Mikey David, deserves an award for the most patient and wonderful contractor in the universe. Not only did he get his crew working on the reconstruction in record time and do an absolutely fantastic job to boot, but he put up with days upon days of my saying, “Well, how much does this cost? How much does that cost?” with a smile and a reassuring temperament. (Personally, if I were he, I would have thrown me off the deck along with the moldy walls and cabinets.)

But I’ll be honest. Those first few days of unexpected home-gutting were tough, and I found myself getting irritated and angry at a huge house re-do that I never signed up for.  (Not to mention that going to the bathroom in your backyard on a regular basis will make even the most angelic person a little cranky.)

But you know what? There’s always a silver lining to any life changing event, even if you have to really reach for it.

So for those of you who have had to deal with a total remodel and reconstruction, hurricane related or otherwise, I’ll share with you the good stuff I’ve discovered during our massive home repairs.

I’m certain there are a lot of locals and owners out there who have had to go through this too, and most likely have had to deal with much worse post-Irene, but I assure you that you can always find a bright side, even under the most black and slimy of circumstances.

1. Playing with sledge hammers can be fun

One of the first good things I learned about remodeling is that smashing a sledge hammer into the walls of a house that you aren’t too pleased with is actually very therapeutic.

And for that first week, when we were tearing out all of the moldy stuff,  I felt like a drunken rock star in a hotel room, punching holes into walls and throwing light fixtures and cabinets off the deck into the garbage dumpster with abandon.

It was surreal, and I’m embarrassed to admit, kind of fun, although I’m sure our neighbors were a little surprised to see a grinning idiot chucking all of her household belongings out the doors and windows.

Is it something I want to do every week? Probably not, especially at my house, but when you’re frustrated with all the issues, stresses, and problems your home is needlessly causing you, it’s awfully satisfying to grab a big old blunt instrument and take revenge.

2. Peeing in the yard can improve your balance

Let’s not elaborate on this too much, for obvious reasons, but suffice it to say that this act will make you more flexible, balanced, and poised, particularly on very windy days. And if it’s cold, well, you’ll become a lot speedier.

3. Your relationship with your significant other will grow stronger

The obvious example of this is that if you live with someone and neither of you have showered for a few days and yet you can still tolerate being close to each other, then you are in great shape couple-wise.

But an extensive repair also causes you both to compromise on color choices, layout options, lighting fixtures, cabinets, and all sorts of other odd issues that have never come up before.

In the past week, my fiancÚ and I have had who-knows-how-many conversations that go something like this:

Partner: What do you think of this color?

Me: Hmm. It’s… interesting. What do you think?

Partner: I don’t know. What do you think?

Me: Well… I’m not sure, really. I can’t get a mental image of it on the walls. What do you think?

Partner: Well, it’s a nice bold red… and I think it would fit well in the kitchen. What do you think?

Me: Well it certainly is bold, but if that’s the look you’re going for, then it will work, but I don’t know. What do you think?

Partner: Well, I like it.

Me: Well, I think it will make our kitchen look like a substandard New Orleans brothel.

Case in point, starting from scratch forces you to examine your compatibility in taste, budget, and communication. So if you can survive a remodel, you’re in pretty good shape to handle anything.

As one local pointed out to me, “You [A couple] will be fine if you can handle travel, remodeling, and building a bicycle together.”

4. Your friends come out of the woodwork in the nick of time

We’ve always known that we’ve had fantastic friends, but a total home renovation just solidifies that fact.

And I’ve learned that a good friend will always invite you over, but a great friend will never flinch when you call out of the blue and ask, “Hey, can we get naked in your shower?”

It has been awkward asking so many people for varying degrees of help, from borrowing their shower to asking them spur of the moment to work a giant restoration project into their busy schedule, but we’ve been amazed at so many people who shrugged and said, “Sure, no problem.”

How fantastic is that?

Mikey and his crew have obviously made the house re-do process so much less painful, and our friends and neighbors who don’t mind our bathroom and shower hopping have been simply generous and amazing.

And Mikey and our friends are such wonderful examples of how lucky we are as Hatteras islanders.

 After all, you’re blessed when you live in a place where help is always there when you need it and folks are always willing to lend a hand, no matter how unusual the request.

And as much as I may daydream about leveling our rotten old house to the ground, it is our home, our beloved “Shellhole,” and it’s filled with quirks that are as weird and unusual as its owners.

So our remodeling project will wind down, at record speed no less, and we’ll just be grateful that a little hurdle like redoing half of our house won’t discourage us from enjoying our island living.

 And maybe the next time that old dryer starts to sputter and smoke, I will once again successfully fight off the urge to slowly walk away.

(Joy Crist lives in the “Shellhole” in Avon with her significant other and their cats and dogs.  The renovation is almost finished.)

 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.