As an outlet for tension or unhappiness, few things beat stripping old wallpaper or taking up kitchen linoleum to expose a hardwood floor, says Eileen McLeod.
The 36-year-old mother of two from Sanford, Me., recently engaged in a marathon of such activities when she exchanged a modern Cape Cod home for a 50-year-old ramshackle bungalow that needed everything. The move was partly for economy and partly therapy for a recent divorce.
"Home projects have always been my key outlet," McLeod said recently. But in this case, her first steps toward helping herself had a remarkable payoff. She was named "Reader of the Year" by McCall's Magazine.
She and her $37,000 bungalow were given the "works" in a $150,000 prize. Included were complete remodeling of the house, new wardrobe and a series of special recipes developed for her and her family by the magazine's editors.
Dirt Floor Paved
The first floor of the house was gutted and a new kitchen, living room and dining room, as well as master bath and bedroom were installed. The basement's dirt floor was paved and the space turned into a playroom for her daughters, aged 10 and 12, and the girls' second-floor bedrooms were also refurbished.
Though completely delighted with her prize and the results of the renovation, which are described in the magazine's September issue, McLeod noted that "the only thing it hasn't satisfied is my need to do it all by myself."
Moving into the bungalow was one of those go-it-alone decisions that caused family and friends to shake their heads. But when she and her husband of 12 years dissolved their marriage, she decided to move from a home she could no longer afford to one within her means as a dental technician.
"I figured out that I could afford $300 a month in mortgage payments," she said. So she began looking for homes in the $40,000 and under range. At that price, most were either in poor neighborhoods or in bad condition or both. When she found the bungalow she ultimately bought, it was a bad home in a good neighborhood.
"I didn't bring in any experts to look at it. I knew what they would tell me, and I just didn't want to hear it," she said. So, despite the leaking roof and other problems, she moved in after a few weeks of making cosmetic improvements to make the place habitable.
As a veteran of many moves and craft projects, McLeod relied on paint, wallpaper and fabric to put a better face on the house. "I concentrated on the kitchen because I felt that's where I would be spending much of my time," she said. "I painted and stenciled the walls, pulled up the linoleum to expose a pine floor, hung curtains and cleaned."
The worst problem was the leaky roof directly over her bedroom; repairing it was her first major project.
"I'll tackle just about anything," she said, but putting up asphalt roofing in 90-degree heat in July is one task she'd prefer not to tackle again.
Nevertheless, she was feeling good about her move by the time she sat down to write her winning letter to McCall's in September.
"I had been talking to other divorced women, so I knew my problems were typical. I felt I could be what they were looking for," she said.
She learned in late November that she had been selected. "I have to admit that my projects kind of stopped after I knew the house was going to be redone, she said. "Structurally, I would never have gone to the extent that they did. I'd never even have gone down to the basement; they put a concrete floor in."
"I knew it would be lovely and I like everything they've done," she said.