A Work in Progress: Gazette staffer Stephanie Earls takes on a big new project: renovating her new 89-year old home

By Stephanie Earls Published: September 7, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

t's mid July and I'm sitting on the front steps of my new house, thinking I may have lucked into a decent enough possible future (complete with cedar shake siding and off street parking), when the wind shifts and the smell hits me. It's like low tide on the Styx, rotten cabbage and death.

I literally mean death: decaying organic compounds and lots of them. That probably explains the angry clouds of horror-movie flies that keep thwacking their fat bodies against the eaves and underside of the porch. The sound is reminiscent of stove-top popcorn getting going, which is especially disturbing because now I'm kind of hungry.

Too late for take-backsies, though. This is my place now, smells, bugs and all.

Welcome home, me. Time to get to work.

The yard is only one of many issues - most minor, a few not-so-minor - that will need to be addressed in and around my 1924 bungalow, the victim of an extended vacancy and, before that, I suspect, a slapdash flip. A DIYer born and bred, I've got enough tools to get me started and a firm plan to keep all digits intact, the better for blogging about my progress and for calling in the experts, which I've promised my father I will do if things get too sketchy or I start to lose my mind.

I know from experience that old houses can try the casual remodeler's sanity. I've renovated two of them - one in Central Washington, the other in upstate New York, where I spent a decade painstakingly fixing up the 1913 Craftsman-style home in which I fully intended to someday keel over and be eaten by cats. (I have no problem with commitment when it comes to real estate.)

My house on the west side of Colorado Springs will be House No. 3. Charmed? Let's hope so. It's been a while since I've redone a floor, plumbed a sink or rewired a room, but I have faith in the transitive power of a good bike metaphor: Install me behind a drum floor sander, hammer drill or nail gun, and my skills will instantly, magically return.

That's how it works, right?

The house isn't huge - one small bedroom, one tiny bath, about 800 square feet. Many of the issues are cosmetic: inconsistent paint jobs, dog-eared linoleum, crude drywall. Those fixes can wait. Who knows? Maybe they'll grow on me. Other issues, such as the vaguely terrifying furnace and the lack of a dryer vent, pose obstacles to practical, comfortable - possibly even safe - living. Those are more pressing.

A few issues are frankly perplexing:

- The bathroom door is installed backwards and upside down.

- The kitchen faucet spray arm is missing, so when the water's engaged it shoots an arc into the living room. This is my "indoor water feature," if anyone asks.

- There are no upper cabinets in the kitchen.

- I love me an extension cord as much as the next guy, but I'm pretty sure they weren't meant to be a permanent wiring solution for major built-in appliances, such as the above referenced (ancient, scary) furnace/monolith.

- The laundry room wall is furry. Yes, furry.

As with any budding relationship, when you move into a new home, especially a new old home, things can be awkward. You're right to be on guard, as home-related surprises are rarely good. It's not just about the structure, either. For every seller who leaves behind a collection of decent wooden hangers and unopened packs of toilet paper, there are 50 who'll bequeath you their unwanted junk-knacks and a yard choked with animal poop and carcasses.

Buuuuuuut, if I'd wanted a showroom-perfect place, if such a thing exists in the real world, I would have bought new or newish, a townhouse or a condo. If I'd wanted a place that was Somebody Else's Problem, I'd have rented. Plenty of people rent and like it just fine. Entire cities of people, in fact.

Some of us, though, were put on this earth with a compulsion to own a piece of it.

I believe in taking old, disrespected things and returning them to glory. I believe, like my father, that a morning spent herding dirt around a slab of concrete using only the power of a hose is a morning well spent. I crave the rush that comes when you smash open a wall just to see what's going on inside, and I don't mind patching up the hole when I get around to it, maybe next week.

As the band Atom and His Package pointed out in possibly the only pop song ever written solely about remodeling: "I'm Downright Amazed What I Can Destroy With Just a Hammer." Imagine what a gal can do with a hammer, a free weekend and a blog.

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