Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Everyone knows that once you’ve been in a relationship long enough, the bad things start to show. With Oldest House, it took about a week.

For one thing, our upstairs floors are not refinishable. I’ve spent enough time in the HardwoodFlooringTALK chat forum (wait, you haven’t?) to know the patina of old floors is something special. There’s a glow something gets when it’s dinged up and stained and rubbed bare by life. We wanted to salvage these floors. But the tongue and grooves are worn too thin for sanding, the (lead)painted borders have oxidized differently from unpainted parts and won’t stain the same, and someone smeared Bondo over large patches of the floor. The professionals agree: these guys are a goner.
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Oldest House isn’t the only one that’s a little less than perfect. I am also pretty sure that Kyle and I have revealed every least likable thing about ourselves over a year and a half of renovating three 100+ year old properties. Weeks filling and carting buckets of dank, bone-studded dirt. Followed by weeks carting buckets of old plaster and scraping coal dust off of forearms. Then there was the theft, and then the break-in. There was also the cold night we attempted (and failed) to hang windows till one in the morning, and the carting of appliances down a frozen street at midnight. We’ve fought over tile and we’ve gone what feels like weeks without sleeping and we’ve failed to save birds.

You can’t keep flaws from emerging under all of this pressure. So here’s the truth. Under stress, Kyle likes to watch movies like Swamp Creatures 3. Worse: he likes to watch these movies when not under stress. Meanwhile, I indulge in obsessions: list-making and relentlessly sifting through chat forums like “PaintTalk” and “HardwoodflooringTALK,” determined to find the best way to [fill in the blank with something that I know nothing about and will never be an expert in].

We have other, less lovable, qualities too. But like Oldest House, most of these quirks showed up relatively early–years ago–and so when they reveal themselves in renovating it’s hardly a surprise. Kyle is too cautious and I am too fond of risk-taking. Kyle wants things to be perfect, while I just want to get things done. Kyle forgets to play fetch with Godiva during dinner and refuses to hand-feed Mango, while I… well, actually, I’m an exemplary pet parent. But still, the point is, it isn’t our imperfections that have been the lesson of renovating. It’s how perfectly we balance each other out. And that’s the interesting thing about flaws: in the right setting, they might be the best thing about you.

So I’m perfectly happy that our lives are a mess. Which they are. We have new wood floors waiting:

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And the paint obsession is back:

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It’s okay because I don’t want perfect. I adore old houses and badly behaved pets and marriages with patina. And my husband. So this Friday Kyle and l will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. And by celebrate, I mean: I asked Kyle if he wanted to order a pizza and buy a bottle of wine and start painting the downstairs of Oldest House. And he said no.

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Kyle came home from his month in Italy on Monday, which happened to be his birthday, and I got him the best/worst gift you can imagine, depending on your love of surprises and your zest for renovating.

Hello, Oldest House!

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It’s not a total surprise. Right before Kyle left we had to face cold, hard reality, like: Old House won’t be done for at least another year. And we don’t fit into our current one-bedroom suite in the New House, mostly because Kyle and Mango and Godiva have too many shoes (I will be their fall girl no longer).

We needed a new home.

So the week after Kyle left our agent took me to see the house, and two days later we had it under contract, and this past Friday—the week Kyle came back—we closed. Which means that, for the second time in less than a year and a half, Kyle has more or less bought a house without seeing it.

This girl, at least, learns her lessons.

Sort of. We’re not renovation-free here, either. This house is our oldest yet, built in 1849. But it’s in good shape, good enough that we should be able to move in within a month or two and renovate from there. So while smart people push Old House back into standing up straight, we are going to make ourselves a home. A home with two old apple trees and a stained glass window that opens and master stairs with a lovely curve and a set of servants’ stairs into the kitchen and fireplace upon fireplace upon fireplace.

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There are less pretty things, like the small kitchen desperately in need of a refresh, and the patchy paint, and the washer and dryer you have to squeeze past to get into the shower. But it’s the early days of love. I can hardly see those things at all.

Kyle, on the other hand, isn’t given to infatuation. “It’s a cool house,” he says, after seeing it. “I like it. But it’ll be work.”

But work! Work might be the best part of it! This is our start-again moment, our chance to show we’ve learned from mistakes at Old House and can do things right.  I make an Excel spreadsheet that codes different tasks by priority level, time, and money. We will be strategic, this time. We will make the misery of Old House worth something.

But. Monday was rainy. We had to do something.  And so we did exactly the same first thing we’ve done in both Old House and New House. We tore the carpet up.
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The flooring isn’t as pristine as Old House and isn’t quite as banged-up as New House, so whether it is salvageable or can be painted or we have to run new flooring remains to be seen (if anyone has any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them). But I don’t care. These old floors, never finished, marked and scarred: that’s what a fresh start looks like.