On the third day or so, an enormous glop of paint went directly into my left eyeball. It felt like my eye was burning off and I was screaming bloody murder. I don't know how I made it to the bathroom to wash out, and it really took many rinses before I could open my eye or see anything. The feeling of that crap in there was freakish. I kept asking my dad if I was going to go blind and he couldn't help but laugh. It was water based paint and he assured me that it will come out and there was no need to rush to the hospital. I was fine by the end of the day and resumed painting a smaller room, holding the roller quite farther away. I felt like I failed in my remodeling duties and since I was championing this project, I had to save face. I could handle it. My dad didn't want to spend time over there at all, so I became the apprentice carpenter to get this over with.
A lot of the work was genuinely fun. The process of cleaning out and getting rid of and re-building made me feel healthier, positive, and productive. It was incredible to see change that is brought about by effort and hard work. It's therapeutic to have this tangible meaningful success. There were days that were extremely difficult but doing this act of physical labor brings about a lot of good I didn't know I had in me.
The best thing about this whole experience is that for a while, I wasn't as affected by family drama. I had a plan for every day. I woke up knowing what we were setting out to accomplish and we were able to brush off a lot of other garbage to focus here. It felt great. This was finally something I did with the family that felt worth it. Each day when I returned home, my uncle on my mom's side would see me covered in paint and dirt and filth and smelling like a man, and he would laugh. He didn't believe that I would actually do this but once I did, he seemed impressed.
If there is anything I've learned from this experience it's that each project will take at least twice as long as you plan on, and there are always unforeseen complications that may have you re-doing a whole lot. Painting seems like no big deal but the preparation takes a great deal of time. Setting down drop cloths and taping takes forever! And you forget about the little things: walls need to be cleaned of dust and dirt, you must take out and put tape around the ceiling lights, remove molding from the ceilings and floors, you find nails everywhere and rip your fingers open with them by accident, removing light switch covers and outlet covers takes forever, removing doors has to be done first, turning off the power so you don't get electrocuted in the bathroom is necessary, etc.
I learned how to build a wall with 2 x 4s, size cut and install dry wall, remove carpet on stairs, apply real primer (which is a total necessity as we later found out,) remove tile, remove cabinets, re-wire electricity, find out how to size cabinets for a kitchen and who has the better deal, (since we went to 6 places!! One in Wisconsin!) how to recycle an unusable washer and dryer, the proper way to use a saw, using an electrical sander, hand sanding, and the biggest pain in the ass: removing wallpaper. Oh my god that was sheer hell.
A lot of this isn't terribly complicated, just time consuming. It's also hard to prepare for things that will go wrong. And they will.
We wanted to "de-dungeon" the place and make it warm and cheery, so I decided on what was supposed to be a light tangerine color for the living room/dining room area. Unfortunately the large window doesn't get nearly as much light as I had assumed and the room now looks a very serious canary yellow. Oops. How does that happen? It didn't look so bold before we did the whole room. But hey sometimes you've got to be bold in this world, so yellow it is. That and Dad refuses to re-do this even though I lost sleep over it.
The thing about primer is that it covers up all the shit. For example, if your clearly depressed uncle thought that his office should be a hideous charcoal grey/brown/puce/shit color, you need at least two coats of primer to get rid of it. Otherwise, the new beautiful blue won't stick and the shit will run through.
Each time you fix something in a disastrous house, another area instantly becomes glaringly offensive. During this process my friend A asked if there were still traces of my uncle, or if we could feel his presence. I had to say yes, definitely. Fresh paint on walls only illuminates the brown blinds and shades from a smoker, the dust dirt and debris stuck in door frames, the lack of caulk, the dead bugs in the window frames, the feathers in the bathroom exhaust, and general extreme neglect everywhere.
Dad had this whole plan that we were going to take down the kitchen cabinet doors and sand, re-varnish or paint, then simply put them back. Sure, except that the whole kitchen was stupidly laid out in the first place, emitted the smell of obviously rotting wood, and was just plain awful to be in. I didn't want to nag, but I felt that the whole kitchen needed to be gutted. It wasn't until we had re-painted other rooms that he saw it too. And smelled it. And was no longer in denial about it. The kitchen had to go.
Fixing the kitchen ended up being a personal triumph of mine. Many steps were required to figure it out, but we got there. First we pretended to be interested in the two foreclosures down the street and spied on them. One was completely rehabbed and selling for a measly $114. The other had a vintage kitchen and stained carpeting in the bedrooms and selling for a whopping $109. My dad was totally depressed over this and couldn't believe what we got stuck with. He kept moaning that all we will get is $114 and to get that we have to do a ton of labor to compete. But, I felt like hey, we could really make that kitchen amazing. The nice place had a perfect design and to get there we just needed to remove a large stupidly placed cabinet. He said it was impossible because our gas line for the stove was on the opposite side as theirs and we wouldn't have enough room for the counter. Not so. I realized that we could keep most of what we had but merely move everything over a few inches and get rid of a couple things that impeded the space. We would have the same design as that rehabbed condo, but with appliances on opposite sides. We could also add a lazy susan, which would give us only one blind corner instead of two.
He looked thunderstruck when I said this. He started measuring and drawing and soon enough we had a great plan. We compared six places for size, price, and design for the new layout. FYI: Ikea was not the cheapest as expected. Soon enough new gorgeous cabinets were ordered as well as a new built in microwave with an exterior hood above the range, and a dishwasher to replace the non-existant one. All in all it was a major upgrade, and didn't cost a ton. Sometimes it really helps to have another set of eyes.
He kept telling me that the kitchen floor was in good shape and he was going to leave it. I thought it was hideous but I wasn't going to make a problem for him. If he wanted to salvage something here then that's up to him. However, while I was scrubbing the wallpaper glue off the kitchen walls and he was preparing to install the new cabinets, things changed. Out of nowhere I heard an enormous ripping sound. I was in mid-sentence and thought we were in a conversation when I look over and see that my dad had spontaneously ripped out that disgusting linoleum floor. It was like he just couldn't stand looking at it anymore. Talk about therapy.
Removing wallpaper was by far the most disgusting job in our project. Fair warning: if you are putting wallpaper in your home then guess what. You are a fucking idiot. Don't cry to me when you get sick of that stupid design and find it to be filthy and greasy and stained from cooking or your kid's crayon drawings or whatever mess you get on it. I warned you.
The wallpaper in our condo has been there for probably my entire life, or longer. Uncle Jim bought this condo before my parents were married and despite some sort of remodel he did 15 years ago, the wallpaper may have stood the test of time. My dad tried a solvent to get it off, a steamer, water, scraping, etc. We were going to just put up quarter inch dry wall, but after covering all the basement paneling, he was sick of it and thought this would be easier. Ha! He managed to get all the actual paper off, but we were left with the glue. Whomever put that shit up in the first place did a sloppy haphazard job with globs of goo everywhere. Once we found a solvent that worked for this crap it took three entire days to get it off. I was exhausted.
We found a section that had a mural from the 1950's on it. My dad thought it was totally cool and I kind of wanted to keep it, but the wall was in such bad shape it really had to get painted over. We knew we did a good job when we could finally see the mural in its entirety. What an unexpected bonus!
Once the kitchen was finally painted a beautiful pale honey color, my dad finally had something positive to say about this experience: "It's a miracle. My god, I don't believe it. It's a miracle."
I can't believe how much money we saved by doing this ourselves, and I can't believe how satisfying even the smallest change can be. I know that if I didn't help my dad with at least some of this, it could have taken up to a year. While he is still working there on his own, I'm glad I got to help out for a little while. The accomplishments did wonders for my self esteem, especially after being around so many family members that constantly put me down.
I am strong, I am invincible, and I still had time to bake.