Friday, January 17, 2014

Katrina’s Introduction to a series of House-Building-Inspired Blog Posts


            Michael and I are still pretty young (both 26), but we’ve now had the pleasure of being married for almost five years, as well as finding the perfect state to live in, otherwise known as Washington: boasting mountains, ocean coast, rivers, and of course, the company that drew us here – Microsoft (not to mention all the Giant Pacific Octopi we plan to see while scuba diving!).  As the sort of completely ambitious with-a-tendency-to-jump-right-into-things people that we are, it seems only fitting that we would take what was probably the most trying experience of our early married life and transform it into a full-blown massive-scale project now that we’re ready to settle down.

Our first experience with the tribulations of Home Improvements in Bloomington, IN and the inspiration of my dream to be an Owner-Builder:

            Only three months after graduating with our undergrad degrees, getting married, and closing on our first house, and two weeks before both of us were to start grad school at IU in Indiana, we had the grand idea that starting our married life together as new homeowners about to enter into a new and very stressful level of academic training (at least for me) was not enough. No indeed: we also needed to adopt a kitten, and completely remodel the kitchen and bathroom of our 1920s house. To be fair, the warped, mice-stained cabinets really did benefit from being replaced, not to mention the old vinyl tub surround with – believe it or not – an old, clear window smack dab in the middle: there’s nothing like giving your elderly neighbors a heart attack from your nightly shower peep show! (Don’t worry, we did cover it with a chunk of shower curtain when using!)

(Notice the window, clearly facing our neighbor’s house!)
Previous State of Kitchen: Cabinets that had seen a lot of love, and a lot of use (including by mice)
Newly adopted 6-week-old Jewel. Notice the tools in the background.
(Note to self: loud, noisy table saws and lots of saw-dust don’t mix well with scared kittens.)

            Don’t get us wrong, though – we loved our house: there was a lot of love put into it (including custom-made wooden paneling and bookshelves) and the flower-filled yard, just not a lot of cash.

            So, we arrive at our new house with boxes full of all our stuff, and get ready to gut the kitchen. Fortunately, my Dad joins us for the first week and a half: silently shaking his head, but ready to help us, and with quite a bit more practical remodeling experience, certainly than I had. Michael at least had grown up helping his Dad build their own family house in Alaska, so he at least knew the general concept of how a house is constructed. I, on the other hand, am not exaggerating when I say I had never even heard of sheetrock, not to mention ever held a noisy, manly powertool in my dainty, piano-playing hands! I had no idea what was inside a wall, or underneath a floor. And here we were, two days before classes started, my Dad ready to leave, and after a lot of sweat and little sleep: green wall hung, most of the base cabinets installed, a rough counter in place, and a loose sink with running water.

             We were nowhere near having a finished kitchen, and hadn’t even started on the bathroom. Thank goodness for my Dad’s help at least, or we wouldn’t even have had running water in the kitchen! Somehow or other, though, over the next four months, we managed to get the wall cabinets up and the real countertop installed, along with a dishwasher, new stove, and wall microwave, all installed by us (and mainly Michael, at that – I was at least good at picking things out!).

Progress on the new kitchen by Christmas (notice the Santa, my own little decorating addition, versus Michael doing the dishwasher and most of the cabinet installation!)

The pre-trim, pre-tile backsplash stage we lived in through the Spring Semester until Summer Break. Ah, being a student!

            Wanting everything nice and new while but with limited means meant we were constantly shopping for bargains at the same time that we were learning how to do all these things ourselves. Problem is, this takes time, something we were in a rather dire shortage of, given our class schedule. Michael was taking classes full-time in addition to working part-time as a research assistant, and for some reason did not find it a soothing week-end pastime to spend Friday nights at Lowes and then the weekend hanging cabinets J

            Suffice it to say, we managed, and finally finished our kitchen and bathroom remodeling plans only one year late – the day before I also started attending grad classes full-time on top of part-time student teaching in Fall 2010. But once the remodeling bug had been caught, it seemed impossible to stop: one thing led to another, and before we knew it, we had somehow ended up with a new air conditioner; a dryer including a new vent and new washer; new, better insulated windows (not installed by us, thank goodness!); a new furnace; new paint (also hired out, once I gave in to tears at how impossible spackling the very rough and patchy drywall turned out to be); remodeled utility room; a custom-built bedroom closet (beautiful work, Michael!); and even a custom-built compost bin (provided by a friend).

New Kitchen with Tile Backsplash
New Bathroom with Tile Surround
Notice the new Window: Glass Blocks prevent future peepshows!

How many custom-built, wooden closets do you see today?

            The whole experience, while certainly stressful, did end up being a great learning opportunity, and gave us a lot of ideas for what we would truly want in a house, especially if we could start from scratch.

            So here we are, four years later, older, wiser (maybe?), and just as ambitious, ready to turn our past remodeling experience into a full-blown new construction project and build ourselves a new house. Lessons learned? a) Construction projects always take about four times as long as your slowest estimate. b) Don’t try to be weekend warriors: i.e. treat the house-building as my full-time job and keep the project fun. And c) Remember that we’re not millionaires J

So this is the theme of all our stories chronicling our house-building adventures: dreaming big and somehow finding ways to make it happen, generally through sheer, stubborn, DIY perseverance J

Coming Up Next Week:

Michael’s story about our search last year to find the perfect plot of land to build our future house on:
a.k.a. where Michael, previously self-styled in all his blog writings as the “Rambling Rover,” 
describes the start of his transition from “Rover” to “Permanent Homeowner”!

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