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Happy Anniversary, House

>> Friday, March 19, 2010

Today marks exactly two years since we closed on our house.  It's a work in progress, so I thought I might do a little review of how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.

The story of our house is that my husband and I have always wanted to buy an old house and fix it up.  We don't want to live in an old house forever.  In fact, our taste is probably more suited to an ultra contemporary design with lots of windows, exposed wood beams and a big stone fireplace in a wooded setting.  My artwork will probably look less out of place in a contemporary house, and our eclectic antique and arts and crafts style furniture collection might look less eclectic if it weren't in such a historic house.  But plans for our passive solar, rustic dream house will be on hold for many years to come, unless the lottery ticket I picked up today turns out to be a winner.

When we first moved back to the Syracuse area we debated whether to buy or rent.  We opted for rental, since house prices were more than we had expected.  But before we found a rental we looked at a number of houses.  In our house hunting travels we stopped by this house one day, now something like 6 years ago, and peered in all the windows.  I fell in love with the house, and whined to my husband that we'd never be able to afford it, and by the time we could afford it it wouldn't still be on the market.

Three years later we started looking for houses, and spent a year rejecting house after house.  Nothing felt right.  Then our realtor insisted we look at a particular house we didn't know anything about, and it turned out to be this house.  Our house.  We knew within about three feet of the front door that this was The House.

In the years since we'd looked at it, the house next door had been bought and fixed up beautifully, but our poor sad house had fallen on hard times.  It wound up being foreclosed, and spent a year vacant except for the local feral cats who moved in.

Lordie, do cats make a mess.

Anyhow, it needed a whole lot of work.  The house was built in 1831, and has had a great deal of major work done to it already (drywall, electric, plumbing, roof, windows...)  But even with all that had been done, some parts of it were in pretty sorry shape.

The mortgage company required us to repaint the front porch within 3 months after we closed on it, and they held money in escrow for that purpose.  Ha.  Repaint?  Repaint what?  Old lead paint and termite dust?

So, in our first ever home improvement project, we dove in head first without safety ropes.  We jacked up the roof of the porch (we had no idea what we were doing) and I demolished everything under it.  I say I demolished it, because once I swung a sledge hammer, there was no way I was going to let my husband share in the fun of demolition.  To this day, it was the single most satisfying thing I have ever done.

Here it is in progress, after demo and with some of the new framing in place:

We did everything ourselves, using Azek plastic decking, and fiberglass columns (I intend to do this only once).  We had help from our respective fathers on design and concrete pouring, and from a generous neighbor who loaned us excellent tools.  I impressed a variety of neighbors by womanning the miter saw we had borrowed and doing all the cutting of the decking.

I do so love power tools.

We were absurdly perfectionist about the whole thing.  Spouse even cut the stringers for the stairs so the steps would all be even.

At the end of the day, we were mighty pleased with ourselves.  It turns out we can build a thoroughly respectable porch.  Compare the before and after:

I still get a little thrill of pleasure from comparing the before and after shots.  The house just looks so much happier now.

The next major project we tackled felt more like an exorcism than renovation.  Check out the wallpaper that was in the dining room and kitchen:

Ain't the black trim especially grand?  My husband started absentmindedly picking at a corner of the wallpaper one Saturday morning, and by the time I realized what he was doing, he'd pulled off about a third of a strip.  We then looked at the bare clean white of the wall behind it, looked at each other with wicked grins, and by noon we'd stripped nearly half the room.  Once we got started we just couldn't stop.

Painting the room was a bit of a debacle.  The lighting in that north-facing room is very odd, and the first warm beige color we picked looked a ghastly shade of lavender in the morning light.  Not what I'd had in mind.  We had enough leftover paint that we didn't want to go buy more, so I hauled my artists acrylics out of my art studio and started monkeying with the color.  We'd never be able to recreate it, but I managed to get exactly the color I wanted, and only had to apply a grand total of 4 coats of paint to the whole room before we got it right.

New light fixtures were then added, and it felt like a completely different room.  It turns out I don't have any really good photos of the dining room and kitchen.  All I have is this crummy shot off my blackberry, and it's too dark to take good ones tonight.

Our other major project was the fireplace, which I've already blogged about.  I'll just show before and after shots of that:

We also spent countless hours and something like 20 cubic yards of soil and 10 yards of mulch on the gardens, plus pounds and pounds of poo for fertilizer.  We have rescued all sorts of poor, half strangled, neglected plants (someone who once lived here was quite a gardener).  We transplanted a whole host of new plants from my boss's thriving gardens to ours, and planted other things from seeds.  We dug a huge new vegetable garden, too.  While they're never pristine, the gardens are now lush and earthy and happy.

So, in two years we have accomplished a lot.  We of course have done lots of other minor projects, but no other significant ones.

What's left on our to do list?  Well, stripping the terrifying mermaid wallpaper out of the downstairs bathroom, moving a wall over to create a proper laundry room, and installing a shower.  The hallway needs its ugly wallpaper stripped, too.  The rest of the interior of the house needs paint, of course.  The dining room desperately needs to be insulated underneath, which requires building new foundation walls for it.  There's an entire basement wall that really ought to be rebuilt, and the house should be jacked up to make its floors a little less crazy.  The upstairs bathroom is currently somewhat Alice in Wonderland, and needs to be completely redone.  Really, it defies description.  The carpeting needs to be replaced, and I have visions of putting slate in the dining room.  The back stairs are about the give up the ghost.  And oh, don't get me started on the poor crazy old leaning barn.

The list is endless.  We'll be broke and possibly dead before we accomplish everything on it.

I enjoy the work a great deal, and find it very satisfying.  I enjoy too many other things, too, though.  There are just so many woodsy paths to walk down with my camera, and Adirondack High Peaks to climb, and paintings to paint, and books to read, and even blogs to write.  But at least we've made some progress, albeit slow, and I think the house is happier.

I know I'm happy here.  It feels like home, crazy floors, wallpaper, and all.


swamp4me March 20, 2010 at 8:14 AM  

Wow! Happy Anniversary!! Y'all have done an impressive amount of work. Please, please share a picture of the "terrifying mermaid wallpaper" -- I simply can't imagine it after seeing what some previous owner put in the kitchen ;)

barefootheart March 20, 2010 at 11:18 AM  

I would like to see the terrifying mermaid wallpaper too! I don't actually mind the dining room paper. I'm old enough to remember when that was "in", but the light, bright kitchen looks lovely. Great job on the porch. You've really worked hard.

Oldbird March 20, 2010 at 12:12 PM  

How about a nice little fountain for the back yard? Wouldn't you like to hone your sculpting skills?

Anonymous March 27, 2010 at 5:25 AM  

Love the renovation of your front porch. It looks awesome!

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