My Dad called it:
"Nothing Short of a Miracle"
Youíve heard of the "Handymanís Dream"?
This was the "General Contractorís Nightmare"
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Bill and I were living in a small apartment (750 square feet) and wanted a house. But, money was tight, and we knew that we couldnít just go out and find a house and move into it. The only way weíd be able to afford something was to find a "fixer". Our search led us to a local realtor who dealt almost exclusively with government "repoís". He eventually found a place on the listings that sounded promising. Three bedrooms/2 baths on a ľ-acre lot near Lake Tapps, Washington. We drove there knowing that this would be a long commute, since I work in Bellevue. This house would have to be really special (or really cheap) for us to live that far away from my work.
We found the address and our hearts sank. The front of the house had no fascia boards, the window was broken, and the brickwork around the window had been hacked away to make room for the oversized window. As we started around the south side of the house, we began to notice other little details. The garage door had a hole where a handle would normally be. The electrical box didnít have a meter. But, we bravely headed around to the back of the house. Looking east, we saw the yard for the first time.
Wow! We looked at this expanse and saw all of the great things that could be done with it. A rather majestic cedar tree sat on a small rock-walled knoll and spread itís welcoming arms across the yard. Other small waves in the lay of the land reminded us that lying back in the grass and looking up at the sapphire sky could be a joy in itself. Blackberry bushes lined the back of the yard making our mouths water with the thought of blackberry pie and jam. We were beginning to get hooked!
As we turned to look at the back of the house for the first time, we began to think of how this could be improved, not what was wrong. We crossed the patio where we dreamed of evenings on the back porch listening to the Mariners play and found the funniest little door. Where could it possibly take us? We pushed it open and were thankful that we had brought a flashlight. What an interesting basement. Or was it a cellar? The walls were lined in river rock, and the beams looked sturdy. The stovepipe at the end of the room went into a wall. The room was huge. It must have been the length of the house! Storage room!
We went back outside headed for the north side of the house. Oh! This lovely little nook will be my woodland garden. A cedar tree at either end, flowering quince along the fence, pyracantha entwined through the chain link. This would be perfect!
Now, how do we get inside?
We went back to the garage door and pulled it up. Yes! It opens! What a strange garage! 13 feet wide by 32 feet long. A two-car garage (as long as you park end-on-end). The electrical panel was in pieces ó wires hanging out every which way. But, look at this great work bench. It must be 20 feet long. And, look! A ladder to the attic. Oh, this is going to be so great! We found the entrance to the house. Duct tape along the edge, and a broken window on the door. We pushed tentatively on the door, and it swung open! We were in!
As we stepped into the kitchen, the realtor arrived which gave us a sigh of relief. At least NOW we were in the house legally! We stepped into the kitchen. This isnít so bad. It looks clean. It has lots of cupboard space. Oh, think of the garden window that can be put over the sink! We got some light on the project and began to see that it wasnít quite as nice as it looked in the dark. The storage space was still plentiful, but what was the hole at the end? We turned and looked at the appliance locations and saw that the holes in the wall and poor remodeling of the floor would be things to fix. Mold on the ceiling mocked us while the room itself enchanted us. 10 feet by 15 feet is a great kitchen size. There was a "pass-through" to the dining room. We stepped through the doorway into the dining room. (Sorry, no pictures). There was a tacky chair rail nailed to the wall. The bottom part of the wall was dusty blue and the top part white. A small cupboard hung on the wall behind the back door. A counter ran the length of the wall between the kitchen and dining room. A small window alongside the door provided a little light. And mold and mildew were everywhere. But the structure looked good, so we continued into the living room.
Well, this could be interesting. This was the worst of the damage, right? Light streamed in from the window, and from the ceiling. There was a huge lump in the middle of the floor. The ceiling was coming down. The walls streamed water when touched. But the fireplace! Surrounded by white marble, it was magnificent.
We continued down the hall. The guest room was next. The same holes in the ceiling greeted us. The mold and mildew were taking over. Mushrooms were growing in the carpet.
Crossing the hall, we checked out the bathroom. This was strange, to say the least. When there was electricity, the small amount of light that the medicine cabinet bulbs provided would barely have reached the toilet, and certainly wouldnít have reached the tub. But the linen closet was huge, and the wallpaper border was sweet.
We continued down the hall to the angled doorway at the end. This would be our computer room. We checked out the elephant wallpaper along the top of the walls. We poked into the closet where a trapdoor leading to the basement was found. The light in the center of the room hung crazily. But the double windows would give this room a lot of light.
Across the hall is the master bedroom. Again, two windows gave the room a lot of light. The damage wasnít nearly as bad here. Limited to a few pale splotches of mildew on the walls and one corner that was rather dark with mold. It had a large closet, and a small bathroom.
This could be home. We left the realtor (who was almost in tears to think that he had shown us this "dump") behind and went out to the fresh air to discuss options. We had determined that most of the damage was cosmetic or easily-replaced. Bill cast his contractorís eye over the job at hand and said, "We can do this."
We were well and truly hooked. Commute? What commute? Damage? Minor! We bought the house, completed escrow and the fun began.
The first step was to pull out all of the existing carpet. Then we pulled down the ceilings that were jagged or prepared to fall down. While Bill did that, I worked at getting bleach on the walls. Gotta stop the spread!
In 6 weeks, we had moved in. OK, we were only living in one room, and there was no carpet in there, but we were in our new home, and the bathrooms were working, and the kitchen was mostly complete.
We replaced the front window with a new bay window. We covered the stovepipe chimney with a façade (still awaiting the brick facing). The front half of the roof was completely recovered and a third of the back. The back half of the house was in much better condition. We had allotted the roof about a week. Little did we know what we would find up there. In some places, the shingles were 5 deep. In others, there were no shingles or even roofing felt! We found a strip of rolled roofing over the computer room that was over bare, broken wood. It was tarred into the existing roofing.
We pulled up one of the layers of flooring in the kitchen (about ĺ ĺ3/4 inch deep) and recovered the floor with oak planks. We replaced the kitchen window with a larger garden window and put in new cream-colored counters. The cupboard that was in the dining room was moved into the kitchen above the stove, and the little cupboard was moved to make room for the larger window. It fit nicely above the refrigerator. We moved some of the lower cabinets around to make room for the dishwasher, added a ceiling fan, some lights over the sink, and a huge pantry. We painted the room "French Country Blue" and called it good for now.
The dining room underwent a real transformation, and Iím still kicking myself that I didnít take pictures of it before we started. Itís so elegant now (well, it would be if we had real furniture for it). We got rid of the back door and window and replaced them with double French Doors. The cats love to sit here watching for birds and squirrels. We enlarged the opening to the living room in order to put French Doors there in the future. Wainscoting of purest white around the bottom of the room with the palest gray walls above. The chandelier was replaced and moved to the center of room. The lunch counter was removed to give more room. A soft gray carpet and the aquarium completed the room.
The living room was completely redone. The new bay window opened up the room so beautifully. A new front door with leaded glass greets our guests with grace. The awful coat closet was never closed again. It is now a lovely plant nook with its own plant light. We pulled up the wallpaper covering the mantelpiece and found a mahogany mantelpiece underneath. It is so beautiful with the white marble. We covered the old fireplace door leading to the garage. It was too small and the garage floor too low to be of much use in getting wood for the fireplace. A ceiling fan was added, the walls painted gray, and gray carpet laid down, and the living room was complete.
The hallway has been redone with additional lights. All of the doors in the house were replaced and Bill painstakingly added moldings around the doors and windows.
The guest room shows some major improvement., doesnít it? Might be a little harder to keep the guests out now. But much easier to get them to visit in the first place! The ceiling had to be replaced, as well as the drywall at the front of the house, and we added a ceiling fan. White ceilings, gray walls and gray carpet finish the room. Eventually, we want to put louvered doors on the closet, but for now it will remain open.
I love my new bathroom and one of the greatest surprises of the house came in this room. We had intended to pull up the old particle board floor and replace it with the same oak planking we used in the kitchen. But! When I pulled out that nasty old vanity and started to clean out the mold and mildew from behind and underneath it, I found a Walnut floor! It was pitted with nail holes and splattered with paint, but I think we did a pretty good job of refinishing it. We got rid of the old Venice scene around the tub and replaced it with this beautiful Lily tub surround. I insisted on having clear doors for the tub so that the tub surround could be easily seen. We replaced the old 3 foot vanity with two oak vanities and covered them with a white countertop. We added a huge mirror over the vanity, a mauve porcelain sink (only paid $10 for that!) and lots of lights. Three lights over the counter, one over the toilet, and one over the shower. I truly donít know how they did without those lights! Two of the walls were painted plum, and the opposite two walls and linen closet were painted orchid. The combination is bright but cheerful.
The computer room has been transformed much like the guest room. The closet has been turned into an entertainment center with the TV, VCRs, etc. on a dresser. We have added a pegboard system to hold our 1,000+ tapes, and the computers are against various walls. Again, we added a ceiling fan. The gray walls and gray carpet look really great with all the light from the windows.
We have done little with the master bedroom other than to clean and paint the walls and add carpeting. The master bathroom has the same walnut floor under the existing floor, and we will unveil it for refinishing at a later date.
The entire task from close of escrow to the housewarming was just over three months. Are we finished? No, weíll never be finished. We have some additional roof leaks that are causing consternation, and the garage has never been completely cleaned and repaired. Also, the landscaping is still in an "in process" status, but itís improving weekly. Iíll try to get pictures of the outside soon. We paid $68,000 for the house and got a $25,000 construction loan. Weíve put an addition $15,000 or so into the repairs. The house is currently worth about $130,000. Not bad for sweat equity, huh?
I hope you enjoyed our little tour. I think you can see why Dad called it
"Nothing Short of a Miracle".
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