Thursday, March 28, 2013

home sweet home: the making of our dream house

Back in 2006, I moved into my grandparents' former home and thus began my life with renovations. But my love for restoring old houses didn't start there. As a teenager, I was an avid watcher of This Old House and one day dreamed of taking over my grandparents' home. One of my projects for an art class was designing and building a cardboard model of the house. This I did completely to-scale, with removable roof and upstairs, showing what it could look like if it was renovated.

When I graduated from university and found a job in the area, it looked like I was going to be able to make my dream a reality. However, aside from a new roof, minor bathroom repairs, insulating the basement, and painting the entire house, little else was completed during the five years that I lived there. Renovating an 1850's farmhouse alone proved to be no easy feat!

Enter Mr. Gryce. Shortly after our unofficial engagement (that's a story for another blog post), we discussed building a house somewhere in the County. However, with my job future uncertain, the fact that I was living rent and mortgage-free, coupled with Jared's desire to learn new skills, prompted us to consider renovating instead of moving. I was ecstatic to have Jared on-board, and was thrilled to be able to have someone help me complete my life-long dream.

Thus began the enormous task of gutting and renovating the entire upstairs. One of our main concerns (aside from the fact that basically no updates had been done since the 1970's), was that there was no insulation, except for some in the ceiling. (I had not bothered to use the upstairs for anything other than storage; however, my brother Dan who lived upstairs for a while, will attest to the freezing temperatures in the winter!)

Our first several months of renovations consisted only of gutting. Out came the cheap wood paneling, lath and plaster, blown-in insulation, old chimney, and pink bathroom fixtures, until we were down to the bare skeleton of the house. We dumped all the combustibles out back and the boys had a whole summer of rip-roaring good bonfires. In our naivety, we'd figured we would have the whole placed gutted and put back together again in time for our August wedding. Boy, were we wrong!

The time flew, however each project progressed with the speed of something resembling a turtle. Jared and I spend hours dreaming, planning, and arguing discussing how we wanted things to take shape.  We experienced many surprises (like burned rafters in the master bedroom from an old chimney fire), setbacks (waiting for help to arrive), and things needing replacing that weren't part of our original plan. Jared falling through the bathroom floor led to a complete removal and rebuilding of the joists and floor above our kitchen.

I drew, modified, and re-drew the floor plans. (I believe we were still in the framing stage by the time we got married.) Then came plumbing, electrical, insulation, drywall, mudding, priming, painting, and--WAIT--another year had somehow passed! We did much of the work ourselves (Jared is a very handy electrician), though my brother helped out tremendously in spite of his own renovations. (I think the free beer helped!) We hired contractors for some things, however, most of them didn't work out that well. It seemed like the old adage, "If you want it done right, you've got to do it yourself" proved true, time and time again.

I don't recommend doing massive renovations (while living in the house) during your first year of marriage, but somehow we managed. All in all, the upstairs turned into well over a two year project (and we're still not quite done.) Through it all, we learned how to work together (when we absolutely had to), and when to not work together (whenever possible). We learned that renovations really do take twice as long and cost twice as much as you planned.

I learned many things about my husband. I love how he tackled this project head-on. Armed with only a handful of tools, some books, Google, and Youtube, he had a vision and made it happen. Even though it was overwhelming at times and he needed to take some breaks, he never quit on me. I also learned that he has a knack for electrical work, and think the 4-way light switch in our master bedroom is pure genius! Jared is meticulous when it comes to little details. While this often drives me crazy (as he says, I want things to be done yesterday), when I look at the end result, I see how the extra time and effort paid off.

 I also discovered many things about myself. I love to design, create, and nest. I love order and cleanliness. I am terribly impatient. I don't enjoy compromise. I miss my pink bathtub, but I love my new shower with built-in bench seat. My biggest accomplishment was choosing to separate myself from the house--if something isn't good enough in the house, it does not mean that I am not good enough.

We have come a long way. We have shed a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over this project. But when I look through all the before and after photos (blog post with some of those to follow soon!), I stand amazed at all that we accomplished.  (Now we just have to renovate the downstairs.)

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