We Bought a “Before!”

Buying an Old House is a lot like having a new baby. There’s the anticipation leading up to the due (closing) date, the last-minute, dark fantasies about everything that could go wrong during delivery (closing). As you prepare for delivery (closing), your water (hose) breaks, soaking your lucky outfit.*

After a few hours of panting, sweating and paper-signing in a drab, windowless room, you own a 120-Year-Old House! Euphoria fades as panic sets in — “But I don’t know anything about taking care of an Old House. Why would anyone trust me with this thing?” And the stark realization that you are now fully responsible for this Old House, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the next 20 years, or more. “I don’t even know how furnaces work!” You cry. But it’s too late.


No, you’re right. It’s totally haunted.

Friends and family arrive to meet the Old House, bring tools or flower bulbs; the experienced Old House owners bubble over with advice, sharing horror stories of when they got their first Old House: the tears, sleepless nights, the asbestos and mildew.  And suddenly, you’re all alone with your Old House; it’s floorboards creaking under your feet, ceilings sagging under the weight of musty, water-damaged joists.

Dear God (or Bob Vila), what have we gotten ourselves into?

This is by far the biggest project that we’ve undertaken here at Projectophile. And unlike all those old alley chairs, we actually have to live inside this one. It’s not a DIY blog without “before” pictures, so let’s start the tour:


Inside front entryway. Not bad. But come on, only 3 locks on the door? What if, someday, we have something worth stealing?

IMG_5093Let’s head upstairs first… it’s way less terrifying up there.

08707241_6_0Filthy purple carpet? No problem. Let me just pull it right up…

IMG_5147More carpet! Well, surely there’s nothing else under there.

IMG_5194These stairs are the Russian Nesting Dolls of floor covering.  Let’s check out the upstairs hallway. Hey look, more musty carpet, this time in Smurf Blue.

IMG_5172Excuse me while I just pull this up, cause there couldn’t possibly be another rug under here:

IMG_5174Now just a bare floor and a pile of black crud.

IMG_5175This will be the Junior suite, bedroom to the 5 and 3-year-old:

IMG_5211The 14-year-old gets a room of his own. Well, after we figure out why the wall is falling off:

IMG_5139Finally, we come to the Swingers’ Lounge. I mean, adult bedroom:

IMG_5144Over on this wall is where the bed’s gonna go. Scott and I can’t wait to break the seal in this… Uhh… Eww. Never mind. Sorry, Jesus.

IMG_5142The family bladders are relieved to know that the bathroom is no more than two steps from any bedroom!  But beware – sickly pinkish beige lurks on every surface. The color scheme inspired by expired salmon, or Pepto Bismol mixed with chocolate milk.

IMG_5129IMG_5134If your depth perception is compromised by the level of monochromicity, let’s head downstairs to the half-bath, or Powder Room (for delicate ladies like me who excrete baby powder instead of feces).

IMG_5204Pretty cute, huh? And almost big enough to turn around in! And what’s this down here? Oh, nothing to worry about. Just the toilet falling through the floor.  Hold on to the towel racks and you should be fine.

IMG_5207Next, we’ll cross the water wall into the Babushka Kitchen:

IMG_5216I feel like something’s missing here. Oh yes, a refrigerator. And counter space.
But the stove still works!

IMG_4811Babushka even left us the original user’s manual! Mothers with youngsters? Women with Regular Daily Jobs? Active in Club or Church?  Ladies, who’s got time to stir a pot when you’ve got naked babies to smear with lipstick?

IMG_5153The sink. Yes, it also works:

IMG_5114And these cabinets! The cabinets alone could justify a 30-year-mortgage:

IMG_4812Sliding glass doors and little hooks for teacups.

IMG_5116Quick detour to the back porch. Wasn’t it nice of the sellers to leave us their bucket and pot collection, full of dirty rain water? Nothing suspicious about that.

IMG_5217Want to guess what’s under the sparkly linoleum? Could it be… more linoleum?

IMG_5221IMG_5220PRO-TIP!  When taking “before” pictures, always use the flash on your camera, preferably with no other light source available. The pictures always look more scary, shocking and in need of dramatic makeovers.

Don’t be sad, there’s more pale pink to be had in the dining room and front (living) room. Plus, dirty carpet the shade (but definitely not the smell) of Orange Cream Soda:

IMG_5098 If you can see past the three layers of dusty treatments, there’s a south facing bay window:

IMG_5106Notice these strangely pristine, tuna-salad-pink walls? That’s painted wallpaper.

IMG_5100Happily, the wall paper fell off in even, satisfying strips. Like pulling off a giant dried band-aid.  I compulsively tore it all down, and then realized I had no idea what to do with the plaster beneath, yellowed from old glue and spiderwebbed with small cracks. Scott said it looked like a cheesy Italian restaurant, imitating an ancient Roman villa. We called it “Olive Garden Chic.”

Just then my phone rang, and local hero Kevin asked if I needed any advice on patching plaster.  Yes, please.

IMG_5186After washing with TSP, we covered the cracks with drywall tape, then applied three coats of joint compound.

IMG_5190_textAfter a sanding and wiping, a couple coats of latex primer and the walls almost seemed of this century. Or at least last century. Or not like an Italian restaurant.

IMG_5202In the process of fixing the walls, we managed to trash the Orange Cream Soda carpet:

IMG_5203Which is fine, cause we found these rustic wood boards underneath, which – as I type these words – are being sanded and refinished by a guy named Lester.

IMG_5163Come on, let Lester get back to work. Step out to the front yard for some fresh air.  Oh, don’t mind her. That’s just local hero Gin planting some flower bulbs, so we’ll have something pretty to look at in the Spring.


Let’s hope the furnace is still alive to see it.

* True story: On the final walk-through, I noticed that the toilet in the powder room was dry. So I twisted the valve on as far as it could go, the hose cracked and drenched me in cold water.  So much for my lucky sweater vest.


16 thoughts on “We Bought a “Before!”

  1. Congratulations… my wife and I bought a 90 year old fixer-upper a few years ago and these pictures brought me back to the excitement (and work) involved. Good Luck!


  2. Congratulations! That house is going to be wonderful when you’re done with it. I am so looking forward to seeing your new projects.

    As someone in a 100-year-old fixer-upper in California … I have been there with four layers of linoleum on one floor. (And my bathroom still has three levels of tile flooring. We still have to step UP into the bathroom, and will until we find the time/money to gut it back to the studs and undo the hasty flip-job idiocy in the room.)


  3. Your posts make me smile! And (sometimes) I miss having home home improvement projects. So looking forward to reading about yours. You’re funny. 🙂 [and all that is why I just started following your blog]


  4. Wow, plenty of scope for Projectophile. Material here for several years worth of posts, I think. Don’t rip up too many carpets till you’ve painted the walls, and if you’re actually going to do any gardening, old carpet’s a great way to kill weeds before you put in a vegetable or flower bed. See, there IS a use for cruddy old carpet….


  5. Oh, and by the way, I fixed up a house with orange tiles in the kitchen and bathroom, and 14 different kinds of floral swirly embossed wallpapers… I know because I counted them. You can do it!


  6. Congratulations! I read your blog entry in detail and was reminded at every step of things I’d gone through with the house I owned for 38 years on Belden. While I never could muster the oomph to tear up carpet and strip away painted wallpaper, I did learn how to clean the central humidifier attached to the furnace, and shut off the water to keep the toilet from overflowing. That little stretch of no-longer-flexible pipe cracked for me, too. It was a mad race to the basement to turn off the water main, followed by lots and lots of mopping. Layers of linoleum, layers of paint, layers and layers of everything. I’m at the other end of that process now, recouped what I paid for the house and then some, and now enjoying a maintenance-free apartment in a highrise. It’s great that you’re documenting everything so thoroughly. You’ll love looking back on it in your old age, but more immediately, it’s inspiring and instructional for everyone who’s going through the same thing.


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