Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Tale of Home Improvement

We bought the house with eyes wide open. It had been a rental property for 10 years, we were told. It had recently been “fixed up to sell” by the current owner who had bought it as an investment property. It was larger than anything that I had yet seen in California and we could afford it. And best of all, it had CLOSETS. Lots of closets. And big rooms. Some of the newer homes that I had been shown that were in our price range and were available to rent until closing were less than exciting.
One was a three bedroom, two bath home where one of the two bedrooms on the second floor had no bathroom access….one was lovely but had no usable yard…one had a bedroom with no closet and tiny, tiny rooms. We were coming from a 1200 square foot house with a full furnished basement. Meaning that we had 2400 square feet of “stuff” to move into our new place.
We knew that “fixed up to sell” meant that they had installed the cheapest possible carpet and that the “fresh paint” was probably not really high quality, but we wanted the square footage, the closets, the under house storage, the large attic, and decently sized rooms; so we signed on the dotted line and moved in.
Things held up pretty well for the first 10 years. We found out that there was a hole in the laundry room floor when a corner of the dryer fell through it, and sealing the asphalt driveway was an issue as the crumbling drive seemed to absorb the sealer like a sponge but it was no big deal. Following a scary wildfire, the shake roof was redone with something fire resistant. The garbage disposal finally blew its fuse for the last time and was replaced, but for the most part things were OK and we could live with it. Then at 10 years, we decided that we wanted to change a few things and the major renovation began.
Those of you who lived through the 70’s know the beauty that is “Mediterranean Style”. For those of you who don’t know, Google it, or just think DARK and ORNATE. We had been Home Depot dreaming for years, selecting which (light, simple) cabinets we would install and what color countertop we would like. When we got the contractor’s estimate for replacing the kitchen cabinets we were stunned. The entire budget for a new driveway, deck, and kitchen would be eaten up by the kitchen alone! When we recovered a bit from the shock, the contractor told us that refinishing the cabinets was an option also. When we found out that cost we decided to replace the back deck and the driveway and to tackle the kitchen ourselves.
Our original decision was to replace countertop and appliances and the cabinet hardware and just update a bit. That was affordable, that was doable. Then I fell in love with a black granite look laminate countertop. It would be WAY too dark for the existing finish on the cabinets, but WAIT! If “I” refinish them, maybe I can lighten the color enough that the countertop will look OK. We had planned on stainless steel appliances and had ordered a new dishwasher in stainless, but had cancelled the order when unexpected expenses came up. Which turned out to be a GOOD thing, because when I began the process of stripping the old varnish, what emerged was beautiful , heavily grained Red Oak. Stainless looked AWFUL with it, but black appliances were just the ticket. And the black countertop? Um, not a good match with the final cabinet color, but another granite-appearing salmon pinkish/rose with dark gray flecks, oddly enough called “Mesa Gold”, looked just right.

I had the casework stripped and re-varnished within 6 weeks, but then we were without doors on the cabinets for a couple of years as I stripped and refinished them in and around other projects and necessities of life, like doing laundry and cooking. Luckily we were able to find new hinges in the exact same style as the old ones, and found pulls that were exactly what we wanted (simple, solid antique brass). We found a double convection oven at a warehouse sale that was priced just perfectly, and the most expensive “appliance” in the kitchen turned out to be the big, black, Kohler sink and faucet assembly.
What I have learned from this experience is that for do it yourselfers, sometimes slow and steady is the way to go because your taste will change over time and once you have it all installed is not the time to decide that you have made the wrong color choices!
And that beautiful, Red Oak? When the cabinets were installed (40 years ago), they were put up, hardware was installed, and the black lacquer varnish was slapped over the entire cabinet, hinges and all. There was no stain on the cabinets under the hinges. Oh MY! There are many more shortcuts that the contractor took when building our house which will be the subject of future Home Improvement Tales.

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