But The House Had Good Bones


photo from magazine ad

OK.  The kitchen wasn’t quite as outdated as this photo.  Still, it was ug-ly.

Finding that first house is not easy.  The Search.  Location.  Size.  Style.  Age.  Condition.  It’s a huge expenditure.  There’s a implicit ‘no return’ policy.  Not a decision made lightly.  Scary.  And it’s an investment:  planting roots for 15-30 years.  Forget ‘dream house’.  Not only does it probably not exist, it most probably doesn’t exist in the budget.

It had been the house of paper.  Every room, including hallways.  Only the stairwell was left unpapered – thankfully.  Wallpaper is just not me – especially when it‘s dark and ugly.  But it had good-sized rooms, a huge backyard and deck, a front porch, hardwood floors and new carpeting, stained woodwork, solid wood six-paneled interior doors.  One of the nicest neighborhoods in town, it got great light, situated perfectly on the 4 directions, 10 minutes from the beach.  And it was in my budget if they accepted my offer.  It said ‘home’ to me – once I redecorated.  The potential existed.

So I looked past the paper.  My philosophy:  If you can’t invest in a gallon of paint then you shouldn’t buy a house.  It was only 7 years old.  One owner.  The children had been teens when they moved in so the paper was probably not hiding some nightmare like another house I had been shown wherein the owner had papered over paneling and the indentations of the paneling were clearly visible…

By the time I got to re-doing the kitchen I had become expert at stripping paper.  I used the vinegar and water trick (budget).  I also thought I was prepared for the ‘unveiling’.  One of the bedrooms (called the ugly room) had paper that was stripes of brown, burgundy, navy blue and forest green.  Beneath that, two walls were painted a mud brown and two the color of dried blood.  I also learned (from the first room) that besides questionable decorating taste (black background paper in the master bedroom – yikes!), the previous owner had apparently never heard of the product “sizing” and had glued the paper to the walls.  It made for slow going.

I had shared my re-do adventures and findings with my neighbor who laughed when I mentioned plans to attack the kitchen.  She knew what lay beneath the paper.  I forbid her from telling me lest I became discouraged…

What was visible were two patterns – supposedly complementary – divided by a chair rail.  Both ugly.  Brown and tan and rust colors.  Sapped all light from the room.  Ripped that rail off with no intent to replace.  However, I had noticed – while talking to a friend on the phone – a seam that showed a layer of paper beneath the top layer.


The first wall went fairly smoothly despite no sizing and only one layer.  Then the fun really began.  I barely got one panel stripped – two layers – on the second wall when I contemplated taking a hammer and ripping the walls out.  What stopped me (besides the sheetrock, tape, finishing supplies, etc.) was all the woodwork that would have to be replaced.  Four doorways in addition to baseboard.  I’d have to match style and stain color so that it would blend in with the rest of the house…  It was a custom-built house.  Budgets.  So I persevered…

Stripping the third wall I found – before getting all the bottom layer off – that the sheetrock was ripped – from the bottom up… Was she thinking of another pattern and ripped the wall after having glued a roll????  I was just past this part, when – on the phone with my friend again (moral support) – I screamed – again.


The bottom paper on the third wall didn’t match the top or bottom layers on the second wall!  That made four patterns in one room.  Different colors.  And they lived with all those patterns at the same time because I found the nails and picture hooks between the paper layers.  MB just laughed and said “You are taking pictures as you work aren’t you?  A magazine would pay you for this (story).”

A male friend came to help move the fridge so that I could get behind it.  He brought wine.  As he looked around the room and listened to the tale he told me I must “have the patience of a saint” because he would have ripped out the walls.  Then he asked how I was able to strip the wall above the fridge.  Simple.  I sat on top of the fridge to do that part.  He laughed.  Said he would have paid money to see that.  And I, of course, would have charged a premium price for that entertainment.  Budgets.

It took me two months of weekends and evenings after work to strip that room – excluding the Christmas/New Year‘s season break.  And when my friend John came by to check out the room sans paper, he thought it looked great – even with ripped walls.  “Still way better than that paper!”



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