The Summer We Lost Our Minds

This summer we kind of lost our minds. It all started when we found out that Tim wasn’t going to get that job in Lancaster (see previous posts for more on that story.) The first thing I said to him, after standing in shocked silence for a couple minutes, was “Let’s paint the kitchen cabinets.” Seriously. That was the very first thing I said.

Tim looked at me for a moment, and then said, “Okay.” Within 15 minutes we had the kids loaded up and were on our way to Home Depot.

We’d already begun some home improvement, thinking that we needed to get the house ready to sell. This included getting a new (and much improved) front screen and storm door, and replacing the back screen door. We also finally fixed the closets in our bedroom that had been waiting patiently for 5 years.

Our house was built in 1912, and like most old homes, is severely lacking in closet space. This is what all the original closets looked like:
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This is the one in Emily’s room, hence the purple door. Really great old door - I love it. I just don’t love the 12 inch deep closet that can’t fit hangers. Apparently, 100 years ago everyone only had three changes of clothes that they hung on hooks on the wall, because this is what all the closets had.

So, shortly after moving in we attempted to rectify this situation in our room. Tim built out one of the walls into one big closet, but being his first foray into the world of construction, it didn’t turn out quite like expected. Most of the problem came from the fact that while all the boards were level when held up, the act of hammering had a tendency to knock them out of level and it didn’t occur to TIm to recheck this. There was also the problem that when the door packaging said to leave an opening of 80 (or whatever) inches, he built it exactly at 80 inches, not thinking that after all the headers and dry wall were on it wouldn’t be that big anymore. So we lived with a crooked, doorless closet in our room for the next 5 years while Tim tried to decide how to fix it.

Finally, he decided he’d just need to knock it all down and start over again, this time building three separate closets along the wall instead of one big one, and also checking level and making sure the openings were big enough. And he did spectacularly. I also want to brag that he wired and installed a light for each of our closets, and added an outlet. Isn’t he talented?



Nice, eh? so, from a wall with nothing, three wonderful closets, one his, one mine, and one linen (since the house is equally bereft of linen closets.)

These are the things we were going to do anyway to sell the house, and the side benefit of thinking we were going to move. It forced us to do what we’d been needing to do for a while.

But then, when we knew we were going to stay, we went crazy, and lived in Home Improvement Land for the next several months. In fact, we’re still living on the outskirts of that Land and it’s now December.

The first thing we did was start to paint the kitchen cabinets. They were an awful 80’s builder special that I hated. This is them just after we removed the doors to get ready to paint.

Here’s an old picture from when Emily was a baby in which you can see the wonderful hardware that was on the cabinets.

So, we wanted to paint them white. We used oil paint, since that seemed to be the consensus of what to use, and it was a major pain. Not only was clean up a big ordeal, but it also took about a week for the paint to completely cure and harden. Until then they would sort of smudge if they were scraped or bumped too hard, so I had to redo a lot of the sections. Even now, some of the drawers need to be scraped and redone, but I haven’t had the heart to do it yet. Maybe I’ll wait until it’s warm again, I don’t know. But it’s basically finished now.

We also found laminate countertops at the back of Home Depot that were in stock, and Tim cut them and installed them himself. The same exact thing ordered and installed by Home Depot would have been around $600, but it cost us $150. So it only cost us that and the cost of paint and hardware to redo those things, which was pretty good! We did splurge on the backsplash and got slate tile which was finally installed on Friday. It’s not grouted yet, but all the tiles are up, and this is what it looks like now.


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We also got a new sink and faucet and installed them ourselves. Isn’t it amazing now! It’s like a complete new kitchen, but for really not much money at all!!

We obviously didn’t think that this was enough work for us, though, because at the same time as we were working on the kitchen, we decided to build closets in the kids’ rooms. We broke through the wall at the back of Daniel’s closet and expanded it into Emily’s room and then built a new closet for Emily right next to where Daniel’s was expanded.The closets are really small, but it’s better than no closet at all, which is what they had, and the rooms were too small to make the closets any bigger. Eventually we’re going to build loft beds for the kids so that they have more floor space. We’ll wait on that for a bit, though...we’re kind of constructed out for the moment!

During contruction....the wall broken through the kids’ rooms. They thought this was very cool while it lasted, and wanted us to put a little door in the new wall for them to get through. We didn’t.
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Lathe and plaster walls...a bugger to tear down

And after construction.....
This is Emily’s room, the wall that adjoins Daniel’s that had been broken through. The space next to the closet is the back of Daniel’s closet, and Tim’s going to build shelves there. He might possibly do a desk top that has a hinge that lets fold out of the way. Cool, huh? He also added an outlet and a network port to the wall, in case we ever need one there for whatever reason. The outlet is for the desk area, and Tim thought that he might as well do the port while he was at it.
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This is the inside of Daniel’s new closet. He still has the original old door, since it was in the same space as the old closet - it’s just deeper. Emily still has her old closet in her room, as you saw above, but Tim’s going to build shelves in it so that it can be used as storage or even a linen closet.

We always find what we call “Harry Beagle specials” when we do home renovation. This is our term for the many cut corners we find that the previous homeowner did in his attempts at home improvement. This is one Tim found while wiring a new outlet down to Emily’s room. This was behind a panel in the attic, just hanging there...four wires suspended in midair. Can anyone say fire hazard?

We then had to replace all the upstairs carpet since it had been all cut into. But most of it was just carpet remnants anyway,so it wasn’t any big loss, and a great improvement.

Around the end of August we decided we’d need to refinance the house if we were going to stay. Our mortgage was going to switch over to an ARM, which we didn’t want, so we changed to a permanent fixed mortgage. In the process we decided to get some money back to do some of the larger projects we wanted to do.

One of the things we knew we wanted was a deck. And we got one. And it’s beautiful.
These are all the rocks that they dug up when digging for the posts. The Delaware River is 3 blocks away, and it must have flowed here once because even three feet down all they got was river rock. This huge auger was no good, because it couldn’t get past all the rock, and the poor guys had to do it by hand. It took days.
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FInal results.

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Then we were trying to decide what to do with the rest. We were thinking of putting in ductless air conditioning, so that we wouldn’t have to use window air conditioners anymore. But then Daniel puked all over the sofa that was already falling apart - and was the last straw. We decided we were going to have to replace the sofas. So we decided to use the rest of the money to buy “grown up” furniture instead of attic specials from relatives that we’d been using. In Tim’s words, we spent it on things we’d take with us no matter where we lived. We got a sofa, loveseat, armchair, and ottoman. I especially love the chair and ottoman...great for curling up in with a book. We also bought a new dining table and hutch, and are in love with them. They’re the kind of thing we’ll pass down. They’re made of Mango Tree, which we found to be very exotic and interesting. The grain is variegated throughout the pieces, even changing color subtley. It’s gorgeous. Oh, we also replaced our dining light. It used to be an awful ceiling fan that was beyond ugly and inappropriate for the space.
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So, now our money is all gone, but we made it go a really long way. We didn’t get that much out, and did a lot with it.

So, that’s how we lost our minds this summer. We almost entirely have a new house, one that we really love. We feel kind of guilty, actually, with all these nice things, knowing that so many people would love to have what we have. We are beyond blessed, and we know it.