Anyone who has remained at home during an extensive renovation is part of a very exclusive, special club of tough, proud, home reno survivors. In the early years of our marriage, Henry and I renovated our first home — an old farmhouse truly in the middle of nowhere, with the closest place to eat at least 30 minutes away. Every downstairs room was gutted, including the two bathrooms and the kitchen. With no furniture, no curtains, and no running water, the downstairs floor was a shell where all conversation echoed.
The upstairs had two bedrooms and one bathroom with an old clawfoot tub, that thankfully did still have running water. The larger bedroom was stuffed with every stick of furniture from downstairs, and the smaller bedroom was where Henry and I lived for almost a year. Clothes in large black trash bags lined one wall, and a small desk with our computer — we were working to start a new magazine! — and a tiny spot for our phone took up the remaining space, with only a tight pathway through the middle of the room to the bathroom. The light green, rotary-dial relic was our only contact with the outside world, as there was not even traffic going by our “middle of nowhere” home.
While we started the project with gusto, we quickly realized that we were in over our heads. With no shower or washing machine, we did our laundry in the clawfoot tub. The refrigerator, with a long extension cord, was plugged up outside under an oak tree. We would then use grocery bags to transport the food inside, where we spread it on the floor of the empty dining room. Paper plates, paper towels, and plastic forks were our prized possessions used to pull together meals. My mother gave us a hot plate consisting of one electric stove eye for cooking dinner at night; we rotated two or three pots in an effort to keep rice, chicken, and a vegetable cooking at the same time. Our meals were certainly not gourmet, but after a day of managing the renovation while also launching a magazine, we were too tired to drive the 30 minutes to eat at one of the two restaurants in town.
One particularly trying period was when the downstairs floors were refinished; we could not walk inside the house for three days, and our upstairs bedroom door was sealed because of the strong fumes. Because I was pregnant with Margaret, our first child, I had to remain in the tiny bedroom all three days as Henry came and went from the window by a ladder. Bored and stir crazy, I would sit by the open window in hopes of catching any of the workmen walking beneath so we could chat — about anything. When I got hungry, I would lean out the window like Rapunzel looking for Henry. He would climb the ladder to bring me yogurt, PB&J sandwiches, or anything he could make standing up by the refrigerator underneath the oak tree.
The skilled craftsmen who loyally showed up day after day were our heroes, especially after the first contractor left for six months to study in New York right after gutting the house. It sat empty for a good month before we found someone else to take over the project. These men became our good friends and proved that while a renovation can test the depths of patience, the end result is worth every headache and hassle.
We hope the beautiful interiors and home renovation tips featured in our May issue inspire you on your next project. Columbia is filled with skilled craftsmen waiting to become your heroes and bring you your dream home!