It was raining… In the living room. .. Bill and I were to buy the house the next day… My friend Leslie was crying…
It all started with a high school classmate and the empty house next door. I graduated with Leslie; her grandparents, Clarence and Mae lived next door to us and were awesome neighbors for a number of years. Unfortunately, as happens to all of us, Clarence passed away and it became impossible for Mae to remain in the home. After Mae moved out, her furnace stopped working one day and the neighbor saw it “raining” inside her house (this was the first time, but obviously not the last).
Bill and I were home one day and heard a knock on the door. It was Leslie and she told us what was happening with her grandparents, and simply asked, “Do you two just want to buy the house?” We looked at each other and said sure!
Leslie and her husband Scott worked and worked to try to figure out where the break in the plumbing had occurred. They thought they found the bad section of pipe and made the repairs, but if you’ve ever tried to fix a leak, you know you will end up chasing the leak throughout the entire house; fix one leak and the next one appears. The day before closing, Bill and I were over at the house; they thought they were in the clear so they turned the water on and it started “raining” from the ceiling again. Leslie started crying and asked if they took some money off, if we would still agree to buy the house. We said sure (I can’t ever resist a bargain!) and they’re good folks.
The Day We Couldn’t Breathe!
We began working on the house in the evenings and on weekends. We did everything ourselves and it took forever (3 years)! We removed a cool old cupboard (which made me sad) and a “dead” chimney that ran up through the center of the home. (Actually Bill removed it- I couldn’t even be in the house. There was so much soot coming out of that thing, I couldn’t breathe at all. I don’t know how he survived it!).
Once the cupboard and chimney were removed, however, we had space for a half bath downstairs. Previously, the homeowners had installed a bathroom downstairs in the dining room. It took up at least half of the dining room and just had to go!
Clarence and Mae had moved the washer and dryer up out of the basement and they were in the kitchen. Well, I didn’t want them to stay there so we had some reconfiguring to do.
If we moved them out of the kitchen, we could cut through the wall and connect the living room to the kitchen. The way it was configured originally, you had to walk down a little hall, through the dining room and then loop back around to access the living room. It felt like the living room was really tucked away by itself. So, the washer and dryer moved, a new doorway took their place and the flow of the house improved drastically.
The Wallpaper Avalanche
The day we started working on the kitchen we first removed the wallpaper on the ceiling and walls. It was awesome and kind of scary all at the same time! I started pulling at the paper up in a corner and EVERYTHING came off at one time; all the wallpaper was stuck to itself much more firmly than it was stuck to the wall and ceiling. The entire ceiling came down and as it fell, it took the paper on the walls with it. I started hollering for Bill because I felt like I had just triggered a paper avalanche and I was being buried. I’m pretty sure that will never happen again- an entire room of wallpaper removed in about 30 seconds!!!
After the paper was removed, we could see the room needed all new drywall, new cabinets and appliances, and a tile floor. We removed one window to create more room for cabinets, restored an old window that opens up into a covered porch and restored the transom window that had been removed at some point. Even though we removed a window, the room is still bright with two windows, a door and the transom window.
The Seven Layers of
The bedrooms? They had beautiful smooth plastered walls with layers, and layers and layers and layers of wallpaper covering them. It took me months to remove all the paper with steamers and a scraper. In the “masking tape bedroom”, when I got the paper removed from one of the corners, the wind started blowing my hair. There was a large hole in that wall, and apparently the only thing keeping the heat in, and the cold out, were those layers of wallpaper.
This was actually the craziest room in the house. You see, people who went through the Great Depression became very adept at making do with what they had. This room had cracks that developed in the walls, so they covered them up with masking tape…..then they painted over it all. Then, the next time cracks developed, they did the same, and again, and again. Here is a photo of the room after I got done removing the masking tape- Bet you never saw a room like this before!!!
I finished my wallpaper removal in August on the master bedroom ceiling. How do I remember that? Well, I rented a large plate steamer for the ceiling and I had to hold it with an oven mitt to try to keep from being burned as the hot water kept running down my arms. I believe the outdoor temperature was about 90 degrees that week. Needless to say, between the steam and the August heat that memory was “burned” into my memory, haha!
Adding a Modern Convenience- Heat in the Bedrooms!
Next it was up to the bedrooms and bathroom. When we got the house, there was one radiator in the upstairs hallway and one in the bathroom. That was it- none in any of the bedrooms! Well, we moved the radiator out of the hall and into one of the rooms, added two more radiators and were able to properly heat the entire upstairs. Of course downstairs that meant opening up a channel in the living room wall, so that was more to fix later on.
The bathroom got a total gut job, new drywall, new fixtures and finishes and a redesign of the room. When it was time to remove the bathtub/shower plumbing, Bill grabbed the pipe mast and it came right out (leak found)!j
The attic bedroom closet jutted into the bathroom, creating a long narrow space that you walked through to get to the tub, sink and toilet. We removed that closet, opening up the space and created room for the washer and dryer.
In fact, in all of the bedrooms we built new closets. First of all, none of them were deep enough to accommodate a hangar. These closets were created in a time when a person only had hooks in the closet to hang their clothes on.
In the “attic room” bedroom, we placed the closet beside the attic steps so that wall made more sense. In the “masking tape” room we demoed the old closet that was right at the doorway and moved it to the other end of the room, placing it, along with a window seat and shelving around the one window.
In the master, the closet took up half of the one wall. By moving the closets to the adjacent wall, we were better able to maximize space and even created a niche for a dresser.
The “Christmas Story” version of Wiring
Another feature of the “just make do with what you have” way of looking at things manifested itself in the wiring. Remember in “A Christmas Story”, Ralphie’s Dad plugging in the Christmas Lights and shorting out the fuse? This house reminded me of Ralphie’s house; the home owners needed more outlets and so they attached power strips to the walls in pretty much every room. I was so glad when they all went away.
Luckily the last 6 months we worked on this house, the new buyers pitched in and helped us finish (they became our bestest friends over this and many more adventures we have shared). I believe if they hadn’t done that, we might still be working on that house!
We had a crazy time with finishing the hardwood floors. We couldn’t wait to rent a sander and have beautiful floors. There was one tiny glitch-as soon as Bill started the sander the sanding pads heated up and glued themselves down to the floor. We still don’t know what it was that was on the floor, but it was not going to be sanded away.
We ended up sitting on the floor in a line, applying paint stripper and scraping off the finish, one scrape at a time. It took two days!! After that, we were able to sand the floors. Luckily the floor did turn out very well.
As we sanded and painted and installed everything, there was one issue we couldn’t figure out how to resolve. The upstairs hallway walls, the walls going down the steps, the dining room walls and living room walls were just plain UGLY. They were old bumpy cracked horsehair plaster. We couldn’t install drywall over these walls or we would have had to rip out all the trim and start again. All the other walls in the house had been restored to smooth plaster (bedrooms) or we had gutted the room and started from scratch with drywall (bathrooms and kitchen).
The Dabbing to End All Dabbing
So what to do? We kind of decided against the masking tape route (haha) because Bill knew a technique we could do with drywall compound. You spread the compound on the surface, then you cause the compound to spike up, using something to dab at the compound and then when it begins setting up, someone else comes along and knocks down the points. (It’s called drywall knockdown).
The thing we were stuck on was what to use to create the points. Bill came up with wadding up a rag, and then covering it with a second rag that was twisted around the first one. The person doing the dabbing would hold onto the tails of the second rag and dab the fresh drywall compound-it was brutal and I would NOT recommend this applicator.
Well, I became the person applying the drywall mud, the homeowners and Bill would come after me dabbing and then after they got so much done, Bill would go back and “knock down” the mud. We did the walls and ceilings primarily over the Memorial Day weekend and I calculated that I spread 20+ containers of mud on those surfaces!! At even 20 buckets X 67 lbs per bucket? That was a half a ton of drywall compound we added to those walls and ceilings that weekend.
When we got done with the house, I just thought it was the most beautiful house ever. Then, our BFFs moved in, decorated it, made more improvements and it’s twice as pretty as the day we finished!
So, after this long rambling explanation of Flipping Houses 101, The Original Flip, you’ll remember this story started with a high school classmate and ceilings that “rained” and ended with two new best friends and a gorgeous house for them to live in! Not too shabby……and it only took 3 years (sheesh)!!!
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