Almost two years ago...
My husband Peter and I and my sister Eva inherited my parents' 1927 bungalow and adjoining acreage. It's been in our family the last 34 years and was a great place to grow up--a big yard with [at one time] a tree house, a rope bridge, a tire swing, and quite a challenging croquet course; a great view of the Smoky Mountains; large, light rooms and plenteous storage space, especially in the kitchen; a workshop for my dad; good neighbors, though sadly few children; a quiet street; amazing sunsets from the kitchen windows; and fairly common cross-breezes to relieve the lack of central AC. Over the years, Dad painted the exterior, helped re-shingle the roof, planted flower gardens with Eva, and got regular exercise mowing the varying slopes of our yard. He also replaced several ceilings, hung drywall and painted in the kitchen and a bedroom, and painted three floors and two wallpapered rooms. The living room and dining room (other than their ceilings) were basically untouched and still boast early wallpaper patterns and original faux wood-grained trim, which was long ago painted over in other rooms. Those two rooms and the hall way remained carpeted with the same old, thin, ugly carpeting all our growing up, though Mom and I removed the same carpet in the sun room after discovering good pine floors directly beneath the carpet and wanted to pull up the carpet elsewhere and refinish the floors, which were unfortunately covered with ancient and hideous linoleum. We didn't really give a thought to the closets. Dad claimed what would have been the pantry for his study, often closing himself in with his desk and the scores (hundreds?) of books that lined the rough shelves. We have a letter Mom sent out shortly after the purchasing the house, but we have very little idea what she thought of the place in those early years and what projects she may have hoped Dad would accomplish. Overall, I think we were all very content with the house while we had all our familiar possessions around us and were living one year to the next within its walls.
Then in 2016 within 8 months, all of us were gone--Dad and Mom to heaven, Eva to her life in Austria, me to my new home and husband in Pennsylvania--and most of the furniture disbursed. Peter and I checked in on the house when we were back in town on two occasions, and friends graciously dropped by every once in a while to water the plants and keep an occasional eye on the property. We had all the plumbing replaced under the house and put in a badly needed new bathroom floor, but the house was basically vacant while we all discussed renting, repairs, or whether we should move back to live there and work on projects ourselves.
Late this spring we decided to make the final push toward getting the house ready to rent and settled on what projects Peter and I would tackle over a week or two's visit. Then a June break-in (thankfully resulting in nothing more than an broken back door, which was hard enough to repair) settled us on a June trip to get the process moving as quickly as possible. We arrived early one Wednesday morning to choose...
Given our less-than-two-week time frame, we had very little choice of whom to lay our carpet. We would definitely go with oft recommended Broadway Carpets next time, so I won't go into detail regarding the ways in which our experience was disappointing. But I was shocked at how few color variations there were for a tight budget. We had to match existing wallpaper, trim paint, painted floors, stained trim, and kitchen linoleum, which also severely limited our neutral options. Can you guess which of these we picked?
Bathroom Door + Trim
Somehow in the redo of the bathroom floor last summer (which we were not present for), the bathroom door was shortened at an uneven angle, its paint started to peel from the bottom up, and the trim was badly scarred. Peter was able to add a strip of wood to the bottom of the door to even out and lessen the gap, and we sanded and painted the bottom of the door and the trim along the floor. Despite our best efforts, we missed this one after shot, but imagine a fresh coat of matching paint on the second photo's trim.
Shockingly, the bedroom and hall closets ate up a sizable portion of our rehab time and energy. Maybe some people only look at size of closets when choosing to rent or buy, but I was slightly appalled by the dingy, drab closets I'd never seen behind our clothes all those years. There were dark corners, peeling wallpaper of at least seven or eight different patterns, rough shelves...all of which I was convinced we could brighten significantly with some spackling and painting. And a large amount of grit in our faces, paint in my hair, sweat, and elbow grease. For once, we remembered to take before and after pictures (though prior to pulling up our plastic drop cloths), so here are the three closets at various stages of [p]refurbishment:
Pantry: Our Pièce de Résistance
Several problems presented themselves as we started work on the pantry. First, there was a gaping hole in the wall beneath the spot where Dad's desk had once been; presumably he'd kicked it at some point. Next, there were ramshackle shelves that were attached to the studs far more permanently than the wallboard. (Peter had to saw through one stripped screw!) Then there was the wavy, waggling wall board up most of the right hand side. And, finally, there was the wallpaper that was even looser than we suspected. After scraping the loose edges away, patching a number of nail holes and gouges in the wall, and starting to prime the walls, the paper came rippling down in ragged strips and irritating bits. Like the other closets, the wallpaper wrinkled badly when first painted (scary!) then stretched itself more tautly once dry, but the peeling paper almost had us at our wits' end. Thanks to Julia Child and our temporary hosts (my aunt and uncle), Peter had the brilliant idea to cover the worst wall with pegboard, which I spray-painted a light robin egg blue, screwed into vertical wood strips screwed into the hard-to-find studs. With the addition of pine shelving to replace what we'd ripped out, we were quite pleased with the much brighter, much hipper finished product--a pantry most any woman could get excited about. Eva teased that she suddenly wanted to move in!
While we've consistently had the lawn mowed in our absense, the bushes, trees, and vines on the property were extremely overgrown. (I wish I could have seen the wisteria bloom this year; it must have been amazing!) Peter cut some of the worst growth back, replaced a broken window in the garage, covered cracked windows in the workshop, and hung a tire swing from the maple where we once had a tree house.
As I mentioned above, the house was broken into in June; a neighbor called to alert me and the police. The culprits smashed two panels of glass out of the back door, as well as one of the two vertical wood muntins, but surprisingly didn't damage or remove anything in the house. (Friends came over to let the police in, sweep up the glass, and cover the door with plywood until we could get to it.) Because the back door matches the front door and is original to the house, I hated the thought of replacing it with some new generic door with far less character. Neither did I want to rely on an architectural salvage shop like Knox Heritage to have an identical door in the correct dimensions that we would still have to paint and fit with a new lock. After much discussion and a couple trips to Lowe's, Peter had a good idea of how he planned to replace all three glass panels, the muntin, and wood trim on one side, while matching glazing on other other side in a few damaged areas. (All our time watching This Old House paid off when we traced the profile of the original muntin and moulding onto an old credit card, cut out the profile, and ran that along the new glazing for a quick near match to the second intact muntin.) There were a few hiccups along the way as we made do with inadequate tools, no clamps, and slow caulk drying times; but the door was rehung and repainted by the time the new carpet was installed on our last full day onsite. I'm afraid I don't have any photos of the rebuilding process....
Well, by now--if you've been looking closely--you'll have seen which carpet we chose for the living room, dining room, and hall and what I replaced an old green scrap of indoor/outdoor carpet with on the back porch. (The installation of the former took about seven hours, the latter about 15 minutes.) As the old wool carpet was removed, it revealed a brilliant orange carpet pad, a hideous old linoleum in the living/dining rooms, and a redundant wood grain linoleum down the hall (covering perfectly fine pine, as far as we can tell). The majority of the linoleum resembled a laminated white, tan, grey, and aqua heavy cotton sweater, which--oddly enough--almost matched the brighter color and pattern of the new carpet pad. (I can't think what inspired previous owners to install that particular linoleum over good pine floors! Maybe it was laid prior to the current wallpaper, since there is at least one layer under the current brown and white.) Since the new pad and carpet being laid inside the house were substantially thicker than what was taken up, 4-5 doors had to be temporarily removed even to lay the carpet and trimmed down to enable them to open or close without wearing out the carpet immediately. (Thankfully, we found someone to trim the doors after we left.) We also had to remove, repair, repaint, and re-lay the quarter round in the hall, the only room with that finishing touch. Frustrations and miscommunications aside, the end result is certainly a brighter, cleaner, fresher looking and softer house!
Lighter Elements of Our Trip
Click through the photos for captions...
We are so appreciative to those of you who have looked in on the house over the last year and a half, loaned us tools, helped clean and do yard work, hosted us, moved furniture in a thunderstorm, and brought us meals!