17:19 4 June, 2016
We have lived here for 1 year, 9 months, 7 days, or 646 days; 15,024 hours; 901,440 minutes, give or take. In that time, I have not once felt it was “home”. A place for our stuff, sure. Someone else’s house that we were staying in, for a time. Not long enough to really do much.
Not an especially wonderful place, either, mind. A place with mice in the walls and stink bugs. A place with one working shower out of two present; of no bath tub; of two mostly functional toilets and limited hidden storage. A place with tile countertops in the kitchen (ugh), an odd layout, and not nearly as close to my job as hoped. A place on the edge of crumbly. A dark, depressing, annoyingly dirty, dull, MOIST place. Ah well, I tell myself, at least it’s green here, and our neighbors are awesome.
Last week, I was sitting with some very sage friends of mine who have been renovating their house, step by step. I was complaining about all the things I hate about this house and how upset I was that we’d felt we had to buy it. The advice my dear friends gave me, as I remember it, was to pick one thing. Just one thing. Something small we could agree on, something that would make us feel good, something we could afford both the money and time to make happen quickly that would make a solid impact on a problem with the house.
I had the idea that maybe we could actually finish the kitchen ceiling. When we moved in, there was very little electric light and textured paper lined the ceiling. The paper was pretty, but it didn’t reflect any light - it quickly ate the light and then belched dullness. There’s a large bank of windows right next to the kitchen, and that light just disappears into the ceiling. Marc installed new and very nice lights in the kitchen, cutting channels through the ceiling to put in wire and beginning the patch up. Then he began to rip down the light absorbing paper. Sadly, the ceiling paint rips off with the paper, leaving behind a right sad mess.
Additionally, we began to discover some water damage and dampness on the ceiling. The kind that comes from leaking pipes above. Marc investigated, only to find extreme amounts of mold in the insulation between the kitchen and the upstairs. He ripped out the insulation and cleaned the wood and patched the ceiling. And there both projects remained: spackled and taped, rough and torn-looking, grey where the drywall patch is unprimed. For...awhile. This is how things happened in the old house - we would begin a project and get about a day or so into it and then we would start something else without finishing. We finally finished most of those things when we needed to sell - preparing it to be a lovely home for someone else. We spent 14 years in that house, and in some ways only truly invested in it for the last 6 months we called it home.
So I suggested that we make finishing the kitchen ceiling our “thing”. Just finish the patching, and sanding, and painting, and finally be able to look up and not see construction. Marc enthusiastically agreed, which was a surprise. I did not realize how much it was bothering him, too, because he’s stoic like that. He covered most of the kitchen counters with drop cloths and the cluttered sideboard and stovetop with sheets, and began to scrape. As he scraped, I began actually looking into the kitchen. Into the dining room. Into the kitchen. Back to dining room, over to kitchen, back and forth. I realized that I don’t dislike the kitchen the way it is, and the changes I want are primarily surface things - hardware and countertops to start, an island, more site-specific lighting. Then, I looked into the dining room, thinking about the light in there and considering chandeliers that could move….and it clicked. Something in the universe shifted out of the way and I could see our dining room.
More, I could not only see the dining room: I could see this whole floor. I could see how to fix the things that were frustrating, annoying, or just plain wrong with this house. In virtually every room, and even more or less outside! I had all sorts of crazy, cool, practical ideas for how to make this place a “home” that we look forward to returning to and that we are comfortable inviting people into. I started thinking about upstairs and could see exactly how that should happen. More excitingly, I could see how it could all be done in an order that not only gives us the fastest bang for our buck, but allows us to continue our day to day lives and do most of the work ourselves.
For now, we have decided to begin with a new front door. One that is clean and bright and lets in the light. New light fixtures, a more organic landscape and maybe a railing for the sidewalk. For now we will purchase or rent a pressure washer and clean off the mossy green muck. There’s a plan in place, and a way to get it done. It will be hard work, yes. It will disturb our day to day in so many ways, yes. But we have clear vision instead of complaints; a plan that can be implemented and not just talked about. It’s a way to do it ourselves, and it will be slow but so very satisfying. It will make a place that is us, a place we want to hang our sign and pictures and call HOME.