Lessons From A Fixer Upper


When you hear the words, “Lemon yellow Asian themed cabinets,” do you immediately think, “Dream Home!?” How about faded carpet, stained wall paper, and linoleum floors?

What about indoor pool, in-house speaker system, and whole house vacuum system? Add to that 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms,  library, living room, office, kitchen, and dining room .

That sounds a little more like it, right?

It was this description that drew my husband and I in to take a peek at this new listing in our town. (Those realtors sure know how to get you in the door.) We were looking for a house to flip on the side and the price point for this house was a little higher than we had hoped for a fixer upper, but from that description we had to check it out.

Definitely a Fixer Upper

When we arrived with our realtor to tour this 1897 colonial, any dreams of grandeur disappeared as we stepped inside. The plaster was cracked, the carpet faded, the fixtures and appliances were outdated.

There had been some sort of Asian theme at one point and time and an echo of elegance still existed. Now, however, the house looked old, faded and forlorn. The in house speaker system dated from the 1970’s. The attachments for the whole house vacuum system were mostly rusted and I could guess were from the 1960’s.

And then there was the pool….

Broken indoor pool of our fixer upper


Need I say more?

Well, maybe I will say a little more. What this picture doesn’t show is the large holes in the ceiling due to the moisture sitting in the pool for years without being properly ventilated. You can see the ground water bubbling up through the torn pool lining. Ok. Enough said.

The landscaping wasn’t much better. Yes. There really is a house under all of that!

Vine covered and neglected pool house of our fixer upper

This house seriously needed A LOT of work.

Taking the Plunge

I think I was a little crazy at the time.

Who am I kidding? I’m still a little crazy.

We were currently working on fixing up the first house we had bought and we knew we couldn’t afford to remodel both. We would have to sell our old house and move into this new house if we were going to buy it. I had told myself I was NOT going to be convinced to buy another complete fixer upper again. Sure, the quick update here or there would be fine, but NOT a tear down to the studs and re-do everything kind of mess.

But something about this house drew us in. This house had character that only comes from being over 100 years old. The charm you get from leaded windows, large pocket doors, high ceilings and beautiful crown molding, as well as the divots in the basement stairs from over 100 years of feet treading up and down.

We took the plunge and bought the house…. and then spent the next month cleaning out all of the stuff the owner left behind. We filled the curb on bulk garbage day with moldy furniture, outdated instruction manuals, broken paraphernalia, etc. Of course, I had to drive my husband crazy by sorting through it all to make sure we didn’t throw out any “treasures.” Sadly, most  of it was garbage worthy and we bid it farewell.

A Change of Plans

The plan for this house was to clean it up, pull out some of the old carpet, and use it “as is” while slowly remodeling each room. This system had worked fairly well at our last house. However, unforeseen events were about to change our well thought out plans.

A pipe burst in the upstairs master bathroom on a cold day in January. The master bathroom was located right over the kitchen and main floor bathroom.

Water dripping from the ceiling in our kitchen after a pipe burst

Water pooled on our kitchen floor after a pipe burst

The water was gushing from the ceiling above and pouring in streams down the basement stairs. The above pictures show what it looked like after we shut the water off to the house. In one wet blow, our kitchen and the only two working bathrooms in our 4 bathroom house, were destroyed.

The water damage had to be removed because mold grows quickly behind old plaster and flooring. The abatement crew came and tore everything out, leaving us with a kitchen that only had studs for walls and plywood floors.

Kitchen gutted to the studs

We had no kitchen, no bathrooms, and not much time before we were planning to move in.

A New Adventure

We had to rethink what we were going to do. We turned all of our efforts to making a small portion of the house as livable as possible. My husband created a temporary kitchen in our basement complete with stove and refrigerator.

And no, this is NOT an episode of hoarders. It is 6 people with probably too much stuff crammed into too little space.

Temporary basement kitchen while upstairs is remodeled

He also installed a shower and repaired the downstairs basement bathroom so we had something to use.

We turned the basement bedroom into our closet and office. Did I forget to mention there are 6 people’s things in this space?! It’s embarrassing, but I hope you give us a little grace.

Basement bedroom with clothes hanging in it

We took a look at the floor plan of our house and decided to block off the living room and adjacent library from the rest of the house. These two rooms were next to the basement stairs so we could get down and up easily without cutting through any of the rooms under construction. We turned these into our bedroom and living room.

Library with toys in it

This choice wasn’t an easy one. We had this huge 15 room house and we were using only 4 rooms! But we have 4 small kids and we didn’t want them to be tracking through all of the remodeling dust.

Lessons From This House

I wish I could say that we have completed our house projects and are living in our dream house. I can’t. But what I can say is that each day brings new lessons to learn. I am learning contentment no matter my circumstances. I am striving to be more organized in the chaos. I am cherishing each moment I have in this crazy life we live.

Of course there are still days when I feel like pulling my hair out. Especially those days when I have bumped into the dresser because the walkway is way too small, but there really is no other place to put it. Or when I have stepped on a toy and when I go to put it away the shelf is overflowing and there is nowhere for it to go. Or when I clean and the next day there is a layer of remodel dust on everything…. again.

But the beauty of this house and the lesson it teaches is that of hope and determination. No matter what my circumstances, there is hope for a better future. I can’t wait to see what this house becomes as we continue to remodel. More importantly, I can’t wait to see what we become as we grow closer together.

I would love to hear from you. What lessons have you learned from your house? What are your craziest remodel stories?

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