Renovation Reckoning: Before and After

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

I was planting native perennial flowers from a local nursery's July sale this afternoon; the sun was hot, and I was sweaty and tired. "Why am I working so hard? Is it worth it?" Rescuing this dilapidated house and yard felt overwhelming and never-ending. 

So when I came inside to clean up and cool off, I took a moment for a project-reckoning and scrolled through the hundreds of photos on my computer documenting the work. Looking at before and after shots, I immediately felt better. Here's a quick tour photos, so you can see the transformation too. 

The photo above is the house when I first saw it in October, 2016; the photo at the top of the post is the front view now. Among the changes: a new roof replacing the crumbling old one, new gutters and eaves, ugly and leaking carport removed, new windows (including in the garage door), trees removed, trimmed, and relocated; gravel paths and sitting patio added, along with pollinator plantings, including a native-plant rock garden. 

Here's the back view as I first saw the house and yard through a screen of sickly Rocky Mountain juniper trees planted too close together and never thinned. Not so appealing, is it?

 

And the backyard now, after much tree-thinning and trimming, plus new windows, roof, gutters, and that fabulous new deck. Oh, and paths and sitting patios in progress (I need a load of gravel to finish that project). 

Oh, yeah, much better!

Let's go inside. I fell in love with the house for its classic mid-Century Modern details, including the big windows sited at the corners of the rooms, letting in lots of light and bringing the outdoors inside; the wood floors; and the fabulous original and very retro kitchen. All of which were in very bad shape then. I can admit now that the house was "scary," in the words of my friend Connie, who toured it with me when I first saw it. (But I knew I could rescue the place.) 

Below is a photo of the living/dining room, which in real estate parlance "had potential." (Meaning it needed a lot of work: the windows leaked and were fogged with age, the floors were scarred and filthy, the chimney lining cracked, the paint and light fixtures cheap and ugly, and so on.) 

Today, the room shines, with the floors refinished, new windows gleaming, energy-efficient light fixtures that pay homage to the 50s, and paint in mid-Century Modern hues. The original fireplace with its massive horizontal brick surround and mahogany mantel works again, with a new gas fireplace insert.

 

I love this room!

Through the doorway is the retro kitchen (photo below) that totally charmed me when I first saw the house, despite cheesy appliances and light fixtures, dirt, and a terrible paint and tile job. 

Who could resist the sunshine yellow color of those metal cabinets (top of the line in 1956, when the house was built), and the original beach blue stove? Not me.

After some hard work, a little creative vision, and a chunk of money for new windows, light fixtures, paint, floor coverings, and appliances, that kitchen gleams again. (By the way, it's bigger than it looks: I've had a dozen people in there hanging out with me while I was cooking dinner.) 

Turn around (photo above), and you see the kitchen even has its own breakfast nook, with attached powder room. Very '50s! It too, has come a long way since I moved in, when it was so NOT charming. 

At the other end of the house in the bedroom wing, what is now the master suite was a sad and cold place when I arrived the winter before last.

I lay in my sleeping bag on my camping mattress one evening before my furniture arrived and contemplated what to do with a floor that was so scarred it couldn't be saved, and a room where one end was basically a storage area-cum-hallway leading to the attached office. (photo below)

The other half of my bedroom, with the steps down to the office on the right-hand side of the photo.

Gradually I saw the possibilities: an en-suite bathroom in one corner, a laundry center and linen shelves in the other. So it became, with some seriously creative design and a lot of Jeff's skilled and meticulous work. (The linen shelves and stacked washer-dryer live behind the screen.)

The rest of the bedroom looks pretty great now too, as you can see below. (For before and after photos of my office, part of that master suite, click here, and scroll down.)

Sleeping here is a pleasure now... 

There's more. The downstairs, which was not only dark and dingy when I first saw it, but had this weird smell (Connie refused to even go down the stairs!), is now a light and bright family suite, with its own bathroom that has a cool sliding barn door with a full-light clouded pane. (photo below)

There's a laundry room down there too with an water-efficient front-loading washer and efficient dryer, plus Pancho and Lefty, the brand-new gas boiler powering the baseboard hot-water heat and inline water heater. And a new master electric panel replacing the two dodgy old ones. Overhead the attic is now insulated so the house stays warm in the winter and cool in the summers. 

It's been a big project, and an intense one. But I've been fortunate to have a great contractor to work with--we enjoy collaborating--and other skilled and talented tradespeople who have come to respect my vision (even if they did think I was crazy at first!).  

Looking at these photos, I'm proud of what we've accomplished in the past twenty months. Finishing doesn't seem so daunting now that I see how far we've come. (There's one more bathroom to renovate, the yard to finish, and I've got a punch-list of smaller details in the house.) But we're getting close. And Oh! does this place shine now...

The only thing I regret is that Richard, the love of my life, designer and builder and sculptor extraordinaire, isn't alive to see it. He would be proud of me for discovering my inner Tool Girl.

Tomorrow is his 68th birthday. I think I'll sit on the back deck after work, and raise a glass to celebrate his life and spirit. He'd like that. 

Richard Cabe (1950-2011), always beloved...