After 38 years of marriage, my husband, Don, and I are finished remodeling! (Well, except for helping our grown children with houses.) It has been a long saga, beginning with our starter bungalow, purchased here in Omaha, Nebraska one year after our wedding. The house had beautiful wood floors, but not much else to speak for it. My father-in-law helped us re-front the ugly kitchen cabinets, and he and my mother-in-law helped us paint the entire house, inside and out. The most disturbing feature of the home had to be the kitchen floor: vinyl linoleum tiles made to look like red brick. Ick! We replaced the floor with new inexpensive but pretty linoleum tiles. Knowing we’d be moving soon, we just wanted the floor to look decent.
Don had his first (and last) experience with ceramic wall tile there at our bungalow. The one experience must have cured him. I will never forget the choice words emanating from the bathroom as each broken tile was hurled across the hallway! We learned there is definitely a trick to using a tile cutter, especially around things like sinks, bathtubs, windows or anything else.
After five years and the birth of our first son, Christopher, we sold our home to some friends and purchased a beautiful “side split” home in the suburbs. It had a gorgeous one-third acre lot and terrific cathedral ceilings. Its most intriguing feature, however, was the driveway, which began at the street and sloped at an approximate 80° angle into the double garage. It also had a pronounced slope down our hill, sideways. The garage doors were separated by nice brick arches, making a trip up or down the driveway on the ice a venture not for the faint-at-heart! When planning to go up the icy driveway, the trick was to rev the car engine and sort of pop out of the garage and up the driveway. (A quick prayer was offered up that no traffic would be coming down our street….) When coming down the driveway, it was very important NOT to apply the brakes on the driveway, but to zoom on down into the garage before slamming on the brakes. It gave you the feeling of an Olympic luge event.
The driveway will always be a family legend. Christopher at age four watched his Grandma Millie coming down the driveway one snowy winter morning. She was coming over to watch the kids for me so I wouldn’t have to take them out on such a cold day. “Mommy, why is Grandma going sideways?” Christopher asked. I hastily went out to negotiate the car into the garage for her.
Over the next seven years, we wallpapered the bedrooms and family room and re-carpeted the house. It was a nice, airy home with great entertaining space. However, within four years, we had two more children: Elizabeth and Brian. The master bedroom was spacious, but the other two bedrooms were teeny and the kitchen was even teenier.
I began a campaign to take out the kitchen wall, turn the dining room into part of the kitchen and put the formal dining room in with the living room. There was still a huge family room just four steps down from the main level, and it sounded like a terrific idea to me. I was slowly getting Don, the change-hater, to entertain the idea.
Until the fateful day at little after 5:00 p.m. when Christopher and I felt a huge BOOM as I was getting dinner ready. Christopher ran over to the window and announced, “Daddy’s home!” Don came in the house hopping mad and said, “That driveway is the worst driveway in the entire city!” Indeed, he had broken the cardinal rule of driveway entry and applied the brakes smack dab in the middle of the icy driveway. The BOOM was the sound of the brick arch holding its own as the front of Don’s car slammed into it.
After that, I had no luck talking major remodel. The kitchen walls seemed to close in more and more as the kids kept growing. I began talking about selling, but Don, remember, does not like change. To shut me up, Don called my bluff and said, “Fine, if you can get anyone to pay a decent price for a house with a driveway like this, do it.”
I did it, and we found a large multi-level with tremendous curb appeal. The appeal ended abruptly upon entering the kitchen, which, although quite roomy, featured bright orange countertops and kitchen carpet with an orange, brown and red geometric design. The family room had a beautiful cathedral ceiling. Unfortunately, it was covered all the way up with very dark paneling. The basement was huge, but it had (can you believe it?) vinyl tile flooring which looked like bricks. The yard was smaller, but Don was tired of all the mowing at the old place, anyway. The bedrooms were huge and we moved in.
We did some painting to brighten things up. But installing new countertops and new flooring seemed way too expensive with three kids in private school. So we figured we’d wait. My dad was always helping us with plumbing problems, and he suggested sulfuric acid for a slow kitchen drain. Don poured the acid into an empty soup can. He put the can on the counter, and, low and behold, little white circles and drip spots appeared. I was furious at him, until my sister mentioned homeowner’s insurance. Hmmm; maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing after all!
With the insurance claim settlement, we could now afford new countertops. We decided to spring for linoleum, too. To save money, we scraped off the carpet, the black foam backing and about 8 gallons of glue off to expose the cement floor. We have happy pictures of us and our small children with scrapers. I found myself wondering how long it would take to totally remodel such a large house.
After five years in this house, I began to give up on the extensive remodeling necessary and started thinking of moving to a different school district where we liked the public schools. Don felt safe this time, however. He wanted a ranch so he could “Stay in the house until they take me out in a box like Uncle Clarence,” my deceased great-uncle who dropped dead in his dining room at age 94. And ranch houses in the area we wanted were very expensive. He insisted on a main-floor family room, most likely just to make the quest even more unlikely.
Undaunted, I began looking at affordable housing. One house looked like an Army barracks. One had orange shag carpet on the basement floors AND walls. Most were so small we would have had to send Chris away to boarding school.
And then one day, on a whim, I drove past a friend’s house in a neighborhood I’d always liked. And there it was on the corner: For Sale by Owner. I called the number and was over to look at it that afternoon. Don was out of town and not due back until the next day, Friday. I was afraid the house would be gone before then. His plane came in at 7:00 p.m. and I hurried him over to look at The Perfect House. My sister came, too. We went out for ice cream to discuss it, and she said (so I wouldn’t have to), “Don, either buy it tonight or you’ll lose it.” Another quick prayer and we took a purchase agreement over. The sellers were anxious to get out of town to visit a sick relative, and they signed right away.
Saturday, our seller called and said, “I think I underpriced the house.” He had had thirty-six messages on his answering machine that morning; all people interested in the house. Plus a couple of business cards in the front door! I truly felt like we had won the lottery with the price we got on that house.
Fast forward a few years, and we were in the midst of remodeling the main bath AND the kitchen simultaneously, and we were really not seeking a third remodel project at the time. We had a super nice contractor gutting the bathroom down to the studs, and gutting the kitchen down to the walls. I was coming home and coming unglued when he misunderstood certain instructions (he only spoke Spanish) and did things like spackling the back of my new cupboards. Plus, progress was so slow we could barely see any on some days. The kind senor was almost a part of our family after two months with us. Living off a dining room table loaded with what used to be in the kitchen cabinets was wearing on all of us.
So we really didn’t need the surprise when one of the boys left a downspout up after mowing. As luck would have it, we had a huge rain the next day, and a soaked basement carpet. Brian was having friends over after Homecoming, and we had to pull up the carpet. The carpet drier-outer men we hired had ripped up half of the carpet, being under the delusion that the insurance company would pay again, (ha,ha –wrong!), So, half of the furniture was squeezed into the dry half of the basement and the kids squeezed onto the furniture. We were having some good times now, and we ordered the new carpet.
But wait – now the basement carpet would be much nicer than the old upstairs carpet. That didn’t seem to make any sense. So, we re-carpeted the basement and moved all that furniture back. Then, we moved the living room furniture into the family room, re-carpeted the living room, and then moved the bedroom furniture out and re-carpeted the bedrooms. Then, we moved all the furniture back. Pretty much any time Chris had friends over during that time, they were conscripted into moving furniture around.
A month later, we had only two projects left: retiling the dreaded entryway, which, if you can believe it, once again, had the appearance of red bricks. And the cemented-on dated, ugly wallpaper in the family room and basement stairway. We saved these choice projects for last. It took three years to build up our courage to begin them.
I finally found a reasonably-priced tiler who needed work. He pulled up the “bricks,” lifting large chunks of floor. I mean, things in the ‘60’s were glued to last! I didn’t know he’d need to sand, but sand he did. He did make some feeble attempts to cover the doorways with plastic. By the time I figured out we should have stuffed something under the entryway closet doors, it was too late. Upon opening the closet doors, ALL our coats, snow pants, hats, gloves, games and miscellaneous items looked as if they’d been sand-blasted with a 2-inch coating of sand. After 10 loads of laundry, I figured I spent more time on the entryway project than the tiler man. His response: “Yeah; there was a lot more dust than I expected.”
It took Don and Chris two whole days just to remove the old wallpaper in the family room. Liz wanted red in the family room, so we got real brave and went with a dark rose. We were going to sponge paint the coral basement stairway. Don thought it was a little too bright. But Liz said it was just fine and she was right. I liked it. No more neutrals for us; we didn’t have to worry about resale: we were KEEPING this house.
Until 5 years ago….I saw an ad in the paper for some new lake villas being constructed out west…time to repaint all the rooms and downsize! Don keeps saying, “I thought we built a brand new house so I wouldn’t have to do any more remodeling,” as he is sanding, painting or installing light fixtures in the children’s places. The remodeling fun simply does not end!