One of the first things I noticed about our fixer from the perspective of a new mother, was the stairs. Staircases can be a source of concern to any mother with a child that is still developing walking skills, but this stairway was special. Part of the railing midway was torn down, prematurely exposing the walker to the first floor. Additionally, the railing that remained intact was spaced wide enough for our newly toddling firstborn to fit through.
The stairway peril became a situation that required scrutiny as projects piled up, and time was not available to immediately remedy the condition of the steps. Once the buildup of boxes and furniture found homes, I had to discover a method of sectioning off this hazard. I tried various arrangements, but the most effective was positioning our daughter’s play yard over the opening. The wheels allowed us to move it as we needed to ascend to the second level.
Almost a year after we purchased our fixer, time allowed my husband to begin tackling the stairs. He wanted to build a new base to allow more vertically developed individuals to avoid harm to their cranium on the sloped ceiling. The venture commenced while my daughter and I were on a trip visiting family. We were able to come home to a partially constructed stairway. Eventually, the project was finished, and even painted. It was a sturdy work of art. The railing at the landing was crafted to be demountable for easier move-in/move-out capability.
It never goes away. That urge to change every detail to your imagining; conjuring plans for a room. Our current home has mostly been updated to the previous owner’s vision. Still, I feel the need to repaint; to tear out all the pretty landscaping and grow edible things. Maybe I am not made for move-in ready. I have to create; to shape something that reflects my imagination in a practical way. That is why I love photography and gardening.
My husband is equally driven by creativity, even more so when it comes to a house. He is the real genius behind designing and seeing building projects to completion. With his training in architecture and our passion for making things both functional and lovely, we have a hard time sitting still. I am not sure what the future holds, but we are striving to make decisions and progress that will one day allow us to encounter another venture, whether that be another fixer, or building something from the foundation up. We desire not just a house, but a sustainable homestead that will keep us busy creating and doing what we love.
I have slowly been updating details and adding more photos to the life in a fixer series. I really wish I had taken more pictures of the home the day we moved out, but we were already quite behind schedule and the lighting was not favorable. Regardless, I am sorting through the photographs and adding them as I can. Each detail recalls a memory of those special times, as well as the hardships that became a part of our journey.
Replacing the floors became one of the first major tasks that captured our attention on the interior of the fixer, after painting the walls and exterior. The original materials included laminate flooring from the 70s (dirty and falling apart), and shag carpeting that smelled of pet urine. Some of the sub-flooring needed to be cut out and replaced due to water damage. Brian was able to tackle this situation full force during his unemployment.
We knew that our budget required that we carefully choose the new materials. Brian discovered a recycled building supply store a few hours from us, and after two trips with my mom and a friend (we did not have a truck ourselves) we hauled stacks of leftover douglas fir wood flooring at less than $1 a square foot.
In keeping with our other non-toxic finishes (we used Yolo Colorhouse paint on the interior), we decided to use pure tung oil for the wood flooring rather than the usual wood floor finishes. This allowed us to move in while the oil was still drying, and avoid inhaling any harmful fumes as we finished up the project.
During this transformation, glimpses of hope and renewal spurred us on. As the walls were washed and painted and the floor planks wedged and pounded in place, we started to realize that this place could become a cozy home. As soon as enough of the flooring was installed, we moved in. It took another couple of weeks for the rest of the floors to be completed.
Our unfinished wood floors have held up beautifully over the past year and a half. With two children and a dog we have the occasional dent or mark, but it tells a story much more eloquently than stains on carpeting would. It was a cost-effective and lasting choice for our home.
A little over a week after we moved into the house Brian got a phone call that brought him back to work – at least part time. We had only experienced unemployment for about two months. Renewed income was definitely important and needed, although now progress on our fixer slowed significantly. It seemed that as soon as we started development on one area, a new project would arise that we weren’t expecting. Such is the life of home ownership – at least with our circumstances.
By April we were able to begin our kitchen remodel. This was our biggest adventure yet. As always, things took longer than expected. We had to live without a kitchen for several weeks. The toaster oven was moved into the living room and we bought disposable plates and cutlery for the first time in our married lives.
Thankfully, my parents came to visit about this time and rented a truck at the airport, which allowed us to pick up our new cabinets from Ikea. Brian entirely gutted the existing kitchen. Fragments of the cabinetry and countertop were everywhere. It was an exciting day! No more disgusting and smelly shelves and storage! This was a big step in the progress of our fixer.
Some other goals for the kitchen remodel were to replace the light fixture and the window.
Unemployment turned out to be a blessing of sorts. Brian had the opportunity to make the house livable by the end of our lease; something that would have taken much longer while working. About a week or two after we moved in (boxes and furniture still all piled high in a few places on freezer paper while the floors dried), Brian finished installing the wood floors and preparing and painting the drywall in the last two rooms. We had a slight moment to breathe between all the projects and chaos. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the house with all of our belongings stacked everywhere, but if I had it would have looked like something out of a Hoarders episode. Cora spent much of her time playing safely in her Pack ‘n Play, in her baby carrier while I transported her around, or with me outdoors – usually digging in the dirt and dreaming of our garden.
The week we moved in I found out that I was expecting. Soon after this discovery, I began experiencing many of the common rites of pregnancy: nausea, heartburn, and fatigue. The kitchen cabinets had some interesting issues that caused me to develop more sickness if I remained around them for very long. Our bedroom is upstairs, while the only bathroom in the house resides downstairs, so I kept a bucket next to my side of the bed for any problems with keeping my supper down.
We had just managed to allow the floors to dry, moved most of the furniture into the remaining rooms, and unpacked the essentials before we had our first guests – some of Brian’s family. A few days later we welcomed some visiting friends. After our company left, I spent much of my time caring for Cora, fighting the queasiness, and attempting to unpack and organize. Cora and I experienced a nasty, lingering bug of some sort; requiring lots of rest and tissue paper. We soon realized that a kitchen remodel needed to be one of our next priorities. It was about this time that Brian got a phone call, altering our situation yet again.