By Hallie Bandy, "Mother Over-board"
“Do we get to keep the guns?”
My boys seethed with enthusiasm when I told them we were buying the house.
Their question was, in many ways, a final warning. There had been many along the way. But I ignored them all.
Determined to create my personal rural utopia, I looked beyond the leaking roof, squeaking floor, hideously outdated décor and, yes, the gun racks in every room—and bullet holes in every screen. I pretended not to notice the confused looks on friend’s faces when I told them we were thinking about buying it, and turned a deaf ear to the well meaning comment, “It really needs a lot of work.”
It was a century home on a wooded five-acre lot overlooking a river basin. Yeah, it needed some work, but I was sure it was completely manageable. After all, we had conquered a foreclosure for our first home, and managed a few DIY updates on our second home.
This house was definitely going to need more work, but I was inspired by Maria Von Trapp – yes, Maria of Sound of Music fame – who reportedly told The Captain when they purchased their home in Vermont: “You can fix a house; you can’t fix a view.” I quoted those words to my husband as we looked out from the upper deck. And then I said, “We can build a garage.”
And that’s how I won him over. Little did I know what trust he placed in my vision.
At this point, I should mention something anyone who takes on a renovation project should know—HGTV doesn’t show outtakes. There is quite a bit of editing magic that makes DIY projects seem doable. Cut to commercial, and voila, wallpaper removed, flooring installed, gourmet kitchen ready to prepare a meal.
Bob Villa transforms century homes in a single 60-minute episode. The part where he finds a rats’ nest of electrical wires tangled inside the wall next to the chimney is edited down to a five-second smile from an electrician. When an errant toddler expresses a little creativity with oil-based paint during a brief-but-unfortunate moment of parental inattention, the child is bathed (in kerosene) and redressed behind the scenes. Viewers are spared the interruption.
Basically, home-improvement shows are the opposite of Reality TV. The reality is, there is nothing easy about a renovation. Still, the rewards are worth it.
We spent the first two weeks of home ownership sleeping in a pop-up camper in the driveway by night, and by day, ripping out carpeting, priming and painting. When the moving company delivered our furniture, everyone had a room to call their own. Which was how we maintained some sanity.
We cooked on a camp stove until our grill was hooked up. Even then, it was three months before I had a complete kitchen, and a full year before it was truly workable. The summer was filled with events—pumping 1200 gallons of water out of the “wallow” space (my husband insists no human can actually crawl in there), removing walls, and finding endless uses for a Sawszall.
We managed to keep our young children occupied with the backyard swimming pool, after we fished out the cigarette butts and beer cans, and after the pool company worked a miracle to turn the brownish-green water to a crystal clear blue. (The expert who helped us later admitted she didn’t even want to put her hand in the water.)
I referred to our little piece of heaven as “Little House on the Prairie with Power Tools.” My husband dubbed it the “Redneck Riviera.”
As anyone who has undertaken such a renovation knows, these projects are never “done.” We did manage to complete the major work and have enjoyed our home for many years. My husband often gives tours to guests, describing the “before” and “after”. I overheard him once. He quoted Maria Von Trapp, “You can’t fix a view,” and then he said: “I had no idea what Hallie was going to do. I just said yes.”
I’m glad he did.