There's this rumor that men and women have very different approaches to remodeling their homes: men hate the upset, women don't seem to mind. Therefore, I decided to remodel our home in Summerland when my husband, Jim, was out of town.
His work as an abalone/urchin diver is strenuous and when he is home he wants to relax. I could never find the right time to suggest we throw out the couch and tear the house apart. So when he and two of his buddies planned a 10-day surfing trip to Mexico, the seed of an idea was born: I would spare him all the chaos and headache of remodeling by doing it myself, with the help of my friends, while he was gone. I wouldn't tell him about it, because he'd say no.
I felt this wasn't entirely deceitful since we had already decided to recarpet the house. The main mess, I thought, would be the "cottage cheese" ceilings in the house. Our Summerland duplex had been built as a typical "spec" project, and these ceilings, along with the plaster walls, cabinetry and appurtenances such as plumbing fixtures, door handles, light fixtures, etc., reflected this. In other words they were cheap. This would be my chance--out they would go.
My husband would be gone 10 days. I would have the carpeting installed on Day 8, giving me a day or two to rearrange the house. From Day 1 to Day 8 I would do a blitz -- get rid of all the things that had gotten my goat for too long.
Since I decided to make this project a big surprise for Jim, I would have to do all of it without a lot of money. My loyal friend Hadda and I had endless phone conversations about the things we could do ourselves. We figured we could paint the dark kitchen cabinets a nice white, and we'd wallpaper the bathrooms to conceal inexpensive plasterboard walls. I'd have our dime-store light fixtures replaced with nicer ones (with the help of an electrician), and I'd replace the plumbing fixtures (with the help of a plumber).
I knew I would also need professional help for the ceilings. My friend, JoAnn, said her son, Scott, had some construction experience. I figured he could just nail up new ceilings on top of the cottage cheese. That's how naive I was.
About four days before Jim's departure for Mexico, I heard about a Wedgewood stove for sale--a 1950 model in excellent condition for $350. White enamel with shiny chrome handles and a stainless steel top and griddle.
It was the exact model of a stove I'd had in a beautiful little beach cottage I'd lived in for 11 years. Sentimental? Yes! I was thinking about this when JoAnn dropped by. We raced to the house where the stove was and I bought it on the spot, then realized I'd have to tear the kitchen apart to get it in.
The morning Jim left, Hadda arrived to paint the kitchen cabinets. From Gene at the Summerland Hardware Store (which was to become my College of Remodeling) I learned how to do the cabinet job: we sanded the dark doors lightly with 120 sandpaper, scrubbed them with a solution of TSP and put on a water-based paint.
Hadda was later to paint the cabinets in the two bathrooms this way. We were thrilled to see how much light the painting brought into our little home.
Early that first evening JoAnn showed up with Mark, a builder who had worked on her own home. Within a half hour he had completely demolished the kitchen cabinets that were in the way of the stove.
At this point I was hit with the horrible realization that maybe I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Almost half the kitchen was on the floor, in pieces.
Mark had taken my predicament to heart and promised to help me with the ceilings. But he was busy for the next two days. In the meantime, he said, we should scrape off the cottage cheese so he could see where to do the nailing. After we made sure we weren't dealing with asbestos, JoAnn's son, Scott, agreed to do this unlovely job.
For the next few days it seemed we took more steps backward than forward. For one thing we were beginning to see that all the antique white paint--on cabinet doors, walls and sink counter--made the kitchen area seem sort of like a hospital. It was too blah-white.
As we studied this, Hadda said, "What about wallpaper?"
In half an hour I was at a local wallpaper store, going through book after book of samples. I had already ordered two different wallpapers for the two bathrooms--for the upstairs bath a masculine, dark green spotted print, and for the downstairs a feminine, country-flower print.
But no matter how long and hard I looked I couldn't find the just-right print for the kitchen. On about Day 4 I found it: enormous but subtle calla lilies, pale white with pale green leaves on a rice-papery mauve-beige background. In washable viny. This was IT! The store ordered the paper to be sent Express Mail, overnight.