Living: Lessons to be learned
from renovating or repairing your house
By JOY CRIST
started with a spot.
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.
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.)
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
smell that great to visitors.)
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
this can’t be good.
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.
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?”
out you should never, ever ask that question. Ever.
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.
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.
this discovery, several more bottles went missing from the wine rack.
(I plead the fifth yet again.)
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.”
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.
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
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.”
-- 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.
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.)
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
the bathroom in your backyard on a regular basis will make even the
most angelic person a little cranky.)
know what? There’s always a silver lining to any life changing event,
even if you have to really reach for it.
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.
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.
with sledge hammers can be fun
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.
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,
holes into walls and throwing light fixtures and cabinets off the deck
into the garbage dumpster with abandon.
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.
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.
in the yard can improve your balance
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.
relationship with your significant other will grow stronger
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.
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:
What do you think of this color?
It’s… interesting. What do you think?
don’t know. What do you think?
I’m not sure, really. I can’t get a mental image of it on the walls.
What do you think?
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?
Well, I like it.
Me: Well, I
think it will make our kitchen look like a substandard New Orleans
in point, starting from scratch forces you to examine your
in taste, budget, and communication. So if you can survive a remodel,
you’re in pretty good shape to handle anything.
one local pointed out to me, “You [A couple] will be fine if you can
handle travel, remodeling, and building a bicycle together.”
friends come out of the woodwork in the nick of time
always known that we’ve had fantastic friends, but a total home
renovation just solidifies that fact.
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?”
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.”
fantastic is that?
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 our friends are such wonderful examples of how lucky we are as
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.
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.
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.
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.
Crist lives in the “Shellhole” in Avon with her significant other and
their cats and dogs. The renovation is almost finished.)