Friday, March 23, 2007

Extreme home makeover

One of the risks of deciding to build a new house is that suddenly, the perfectly fine existing house sucks. Not really, but you know what I mean. Rooms that were once deemed perfect are now imperfect and really just won't do. I now see repairs and constant work everywhere I look.

I've loved our current house, loved it at first sight. It's a Dutch Colonial, which is actually an architectural style I've always hated, but our realtor convinced me to have a look inside. Two steps in the door, I was reaching for my cell phone to call Pete at work and tell him to drop everything and come look. Now. This very instant. Before someone else snatches it out from under our noses.

We've put loads of money and even loads more of sweat equity into each and every room of this house. We bought from the original owner, who decorated in 1974 and never looked back. Let's just say there was a lot of color, none of it good.

Our kitchen was a nightmare of harvest gold from top to bottom and I mean that literally. Harvest gold walls, windows, doors, and trim. Harvest gold countertops, cabinet knobs, and vinyl flooring. Even the appliances were harvest gold, some of them having been painted that way. Not all of the yellows were the same, which negated the matchiness somewhat.

The basement rec room had lemon/lime tree wallpaper on the top half of the walls and knotty pine paneling on the bottom half. There was also a sea of green shag carpeting from wall to wall. Lovely, just lovely, I tell you.

Ironically enough, the hardest rooms to deal with were the rooms that were initially not the most offensive. The foyer, living room, and dining room had cream walls with Carolina blue trim. You would think that it would not be too difficult to cover light blue moldings and doors. You would be wrong. All that light blue paint had to be primed and then covered with four coats of glossy white in order to eradicate every last bit of blue. And, as this is a traditional house, it has traditional moldings. Lots of them. Crown molding, chair rails, shoe molding. In three areas on the first floor, up the stairs, and in the upstairs hallway. There are five doors in the upstairs hall alone. Count them: 1-2-3-4-5. That's a whole lot of weekends with a paint brush in hand.

Beyond all that painting, we've removed wallpaper from three bathrooms and the rec room. Some of it was so old and brittle that it came right off. Other areas weren't so easy. We still have wallpaper in the foyer and up the stairs but we've opted to keep it because 1) it would be such a bitch to remove and then paint the walls and 2) there's something rather retro and charming about real wallpaper (paper, not vinyl) that is covered in 1970s Colonial-revival peacocks and peahens. My children have known the differences between peacocks and peahens since they were toddlers. A useless bit of trivia that will serve them not at all in life.

We've also added a screened porch and a back deck, replaced all the windows and doors, and finished the unfinished part of the basement. We've replaced all the appliances, some more than once. We put in a new kitchen floor when we first moved in and are about to replace it again. Almost every light fixture is new. We even changed out every single door knob because the original ones were the kind that a one-year-old could accidentally lock just by pushing on it. You don't have to ask how we found out that one.

So why would we want to move after finally almost getting the house the way we like it? Because in our hearts, we prefer modern architecture. Very sleek, very streamlined. Think mid-century modern. Lots of glass, definitely some steel and concrete. Not hard and uncomfortable, just clean lines. We also want a house that is super efficient and environmentally friendly from the inside out, from top to bottom. We want a coat closet and good storage, which we don't have now. We also do not currently have a garage, nor could one be added, and that's something that is very high on our list of must-haves.

We had been in this house for a few years when we started talking about building our dream house, but we figured we'd wait until we were empty nesters and do it then. Then last year we decided that we want the dream house to be a family house first and an empty nesters' house later. So we decided to do it soon, like possibly next year. We've been looking for properties and there's one neighborhood being developed nearby that looks promising, but we're still considering other options.

In the meantime, we still need to live in this house, as well as prepare it to sell next year. So we're working on different projects and trying to decide what makes sense. The kitchen floor desperately needs to be replaced, as it's just nasty. We originally wanted to put in Marmoleum, but the $4,000+ estimate caused us to reconsider. I think we've finally found some vinyl that doesn't scream doublewide trailer and we're going to try to make a decision this weekend.

We also really want a pantry, as our kitchen doesn't have a lot of storage space. Unfortunately, there are six doorways in our kitchen, which means that adding a pantry would also necessitate a two-sided drywall project and also custom cabinetry. We got a bid that had us chuckling at the contractor's fantasy of doing business with us. There's just no way I'm dropping three grand on that project.

So I resigned myself to another year or two of cramped cabinets and no storage, while dreaming of the future. Pete came up with the idea of just rehanging the doors that used to close off the kitchen from the study (formerly the dining room) and just putting a freestanding cabinet in that nook. I dismissed the idea at first, but desperation has caused me to revisit the plan. And I'm liking it. All the British house magazines show kitchens with freestanding cupboards in great colors, so now I'm thinking Rule Britannia. I have visions of a sleek fire engine red cupboard in my kitchen. I'll probably buy an unfinished piece of furniture, paint it, seal it with poly-u for a glossy effect, and also replace the hardware with something very sleek and cool.

But -- and there's always a 'but' -- I have to finish some other projects first. Namely, painting the kitchen cabinets, which I started in January. They were shit brown and now are glossy white. Very nice. The cabinets themselves are done, but I still have six doors left and it's taking forever. Each door requires cleaning, sanding, cleaning again, a coat of primer, five coats of paint, and three coats of poly-u. And then I have to turn them over and do the other side. Sigh. It's taking for-freaking-ever. But now I'm motivated to get the project done, so I'll be painting like crazy this weekend.

With luck, I can be patient and continue loving this house until the day the moving van pulls up the driveway.


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