Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Things I Said To Myself

I think I'll buy a fixer-upper,

get a new roof, train the ivy -

I'll take the front door off, blow torch the paint to bubbling,
scrape, sand, stain, varnish...

add antique stained glass, new hardware...

What could I do with this dirty, scorched flagstone fireplace?...

I'll remove the paint
from this thrift store fireplace insert,

chisel out the stone,

and lay the stone on the side path,

buy an antique mantel, tile the space
between the wood and the insert and bolt it to the wall.

I could scrape off the cottage cheese, sparkle ceiling,

That fridge juts out past the doorway,

What a lovely red, shag carpet.

I could tear down that wall and put in a counter and new cabinets,

I need to strip the years of paint from the heat registers,

chisel out an arched doorway,

for a music room -

I can chisel out the kitchen side of this dead space behind the linen closet,

How lucky that there just happens to be
a fridge that fits.

I've accumulated a lot of magnets,

I feel delighted that the ready-made shelves
fit in the linen closet behind the fridge.

Done - I can close the doors on that one!

Hmmm, maybe I need to make this doorway arched too -

I'll mud and tape it in,


I think the bunny likes it.

Sink area, before,

sink area, after.

I'll chisel the floor out,

lay backerboard and new tile,

Tear out the old bathtub tile,

put in new tile,

Make a pedestal for a sink out of dowels
and a circular wood base so it will be higher than standard -

frame and hang Madame Butterfly poster.

Hmmm, I wonder what's under that cheap paneling,

oh, it's layers of paint, wallpaper, cement
and a window from before the back room was added.
I'll take it all off to expose the inner brick.

I could add a bookcase where that window used to be.

Let's take this wall out,

I think these cabinets have to go too,

OK, now what?

I'm going to have to remove these
five layers of old linoleum if I want the floor to be one level.

Wow, this back room is really dark.

That's better -

Nifty old 70's paneling -
Rip it off, repair sheetrock, paint -

Back bathroom before,

back bathroom, after -

This is really rotten - I'm going to have to tear it all out.

Why is there no support around the toilet?
No wonder it felt like I was bouncing on a trampoline
when I sat down.

I began renovating my fixer-upper after my divorce. I tore out walls, ripped out cabinets and exposed the most treasured of all treasures - inner brick. It was like uncovering my rough, wild inner nature. The whole experience was a metaphor for where I was in my life. When I walked in the front door and saw the asbestos-laden cottage cheese sparkle ceilings and filthy matted red shag carpet, I could hardly wait to tear into it. It was just as odd, irregular and messy as I felt inside. I was moving into an old, broken home, dying from neglect, and I took control of it.

Demolition was a violent process. Smashing down, cutting up, tearing out, hammering in - all of these actions expressed my frustration. At that point I knew I was reconstructing my life. I was choosing to mend everything within my reach. As I sledge-hammered out the soot-stained flagstone fireplace I felt like Tawanda from Fried Green Tomatoes. After completing the new fireplace, which included purchasing a vintage antique wooden mantle and tiling it in, I sat back and watched it for an hour like someone would watch TV. It was very meditative. The whole experience of being carpenter, plumber, locksmith, painter, electrician, tile installer, dry-waller and general grunt worker in my home was a very engrossing creative process.

The central themes in my home life are family and music. When looking for a home, I knew it had to accommodate my grandchildren and my grand piano. This made the search quite limiting, especially since my budget didn't allow for much space or luxury. Knocking down a wall between the living room and a bedroom was the solution. After using a screw driver to score a large arch in the lathe and plaster wall, I became 'Tawanda' again as I sledge-hammered gleefully. This room now displays my piano, violin, CD collection and photographs from all of the stage productions I've performed in.

When people ask me what in my background led me to think I could tackle such a huge job, I tell them I was brought up to make do with what I had. I also got a lot of training to be helpless and fascinating, but that didn't take. My parents labeled me stubborn and obstreperous, so I got a lot of reinforcement about my strong will being effective. With no particular skills coming into the project, I practically lived at Home Depot, where I acquired encouragement and advice, along with supplies.

I understand every inch of my house and I love it. In every way, I'm happy with where I reside. I love the dead space behind the linen closet that I pounded out and re-framed for my fridge and I love the little stained glass window I installed in my front door. When I'm coming home late at night and I see the light shining through the colored glass, I know I've made a place for myself that illuminates who I am - an independent, artistic, self-sufficient woman.


  1. Oh, how seductively easy your commentary, verbal and visual, makes it seem! We have an empty house awaiting such treatment prior to moving in and we're contemplating the project with deep trepidation. It's trying to achieve that nexus between vision and actuality. I hope that we're at least half as successful as you've been in yours!

  2. So much work! Doesn't look seductively easy to me -- looks well worth the time and aching muscles tho'. The arches are truly poetic and the reworked items are brilliant. Must be deeply rewarding to have made it all come together.

  3. we share the same spirit to
    redone everything...

    i like your disposition to
    use everything


  4. absolutely awesome. thanks for the inspiration.

  5. knocking down walls. so raw and poetic, ya know. i love what you said about having had experience in being helpless and fascinating (but it didn't take). sounds like we've been on similar journeys, so to speak. i love that you spent an hour watching your mantle and fireplace. oh and the way the stained glass light shines for you when you come home. the photos, the projects, the attitude, the discovery of hidden spaces both within the home and within said chiesel-girl. good for you!

  6. Wow, this is amazing and inspirational. Just love it all!

  7. i just read this wonderful, long piece about your renovation. i am filled with admiration; and the statement i most identify with is this: "I understand every inch of my house and I love it." i have done a fair amount of real down and dirty work on houses and apartments over my lifetime--and that's the part i like, too. gaining that level of intimacy with your home space is such a deep deep pleasure. it must be primal. i still wash floors on hands and knees, wax floors with steel wool and butchers wax on those poor stiff & sore knees, do everything as close to the tangible essence as i can.
    thank you. you are such a special, interesting person.