The house that started it all (Part 3)

The house was broken up into tiny rooms, separated by doorways, making the house feel much smaller than it was…

The house was broken up into tiny rooms, separated by doorways, making the house feel much smaller than it was…

Tackling the common living space of the house was a daunting task. The house had decent square footage but all the rooms were separated by tiny doorways, making the house feel choppy and small.

We started in the front two rooms: the living and dining rooms. We removed the seventies paneling to discover layers upon layers of wallpaper.  No matter how carefully we steamed off the wallpaper, chunks of the plaster came off as well. The process was taking forever and the walls were getting ruined.  We decided the quickest/easiest way to make the wallpaper disappear was to just demo the walls.

So we rented a dumpster, wore masks, gloves, goggles and all that good stuff, and started swinging hammers.  When we got to the ceiling we realized something we hadn’t noticed before... the ceiling height in the front two rooms was lower than the rest of the house.  At some point in history, someone added a lower “false ceiling” in these rooms. That meant we had to demo the ceiling... twice!

About halfway through the day, we removed all the lath and plaster from the walls… then it was time to move all the rubble into the dumpster… 15 stairs down to the street, we carried 13 gallon trash cans full of rubble… dump, run up, fill, repeat.  We moved over 2 tons of rubble in one day.

 Next it was time to start putting the pieces back together...

The house that started it all (Part 2)

Not drawn to scale, but you get the idea.

Not drawn to scale, but you get the idea.

Not only did we have the ugliest bathroom in Portland, but it was small and poorly laid out.  An accordion door was installed and the toilet was directly in the entryway. There was a partial wall built up behind the bathtub that blocked the window. And it  was fillllllllllllthy.

We gutted the bathroom to the studs and removed two neighboring back-to-back closets so we could mess with the floor plan.  We used the former closet space to install a giant soaking tub.

I found the tub at The Rebuilding Center (a local nonprofit resale store, similar to Habitat for Humanity).  The tub had black scuff marks all over it, so I went into their bathroom, put soap and water on a paper towel and tried to clean it off.  The scuff marks wiped off clean! I asked the cashier for the price, “THAT? What are you going to do with that? How about $20.”

The only thing it needed was a new drain plug and it fit into the closet space perfectly.  Obviously no one tried to clean off the scuff marks. “I’ll take it!” It’s still my favorite score of the house.

In addition to the tub, I found a $25 toilet, a $20 wood medicine cabinet (from The Rebuilding Center… let’s call it RBC from now on) and a $40 pedestal sink (from Craigslist).  After digging in a bin for 30 minutes at RBC I found a complete set of matching towel bars, hooks, and a toilet paper holder for $2. Because I saved so much money on the big stuff, I decided to splurge on tile. I chose a classic hex tile for the floors and challenged myself by inlaying a flower and dot pattern along the border of the room.  After a few emotional breakdowns (kidding... not kidding), it turned out great! I finished off the room with subway tile and a classic cross handle fixture for the bath/shower courtesy of Home Depot. For the lights I found a great chrome vanity wall light off and a cute schoolhouse globe to go over the tub & walkway.  

Our neighbor introduced us to his handyman and we hired him to help with the plumbing, the drywall and mudding.  Chris and I did all the rest of the work (with demo help from Dad), so we ended up spending under $2,000 for the full bathroom remodel… maybe even under $1,500!

We lived without a toilet for about 4 days, and without a working shower for a few weeks.  Lucky we live next door to a coffee shop that opens early, a few local bars that closed late, and we had gym memberships with showers.  

We learned a ton on this project, our first project of many.  Chris built the cabinets, did the framing, and learned about the plumbing; I laid tile, learned to drywall and mud the walls, and picked up on the electrical components.  When we didn’t know how to do something or what order to do something in, we talked things out, brainstormed, and came up with a plan. We didn’t have much experience, but we were logical, and we solved the puzzle before we started moving the pieces.

It being our first time doing many trades, the bathroom is not perfect and if I could do it over I’d change a few things. But, overall I’m happy with it and proud of how it turned out!

Stay tuned for the next blog post on the main level demo, including the living, dining rooms & kitchen!

The house that started it all... (Part 1)

April 8th, 2008 just three days before my 24th birthday, I purchased my first home.  Built in 1900, it needed more than just love. After searching for months, this was the only home that hit the market in close-in SE Portland… and I fell head over heels for it.

It smelled like cigarettes, was full of junk, it had a different pattern of linoleum flooring in each room, dog turds under the couch, and hadn’t been updated since the ‘40s... but it had 4 bedrooms, an office, original moldings, high ceilings, a big yard, and it was 12 streets from the river.  It was dingy and neglected but it had great bones and I always had a way of seeing the diamond in the rough.

My brother and I planned to buy a house together - get a light fixer, shine it up, sell it in a few years, and then we could each buy our own homes.  From a young age, my brother and I assisted my father with house projects. “Hey Colleen, come hold this for a second… (much longer than a second). Want to see a little trick?  If a screw is stripped out of the door jam and you can’t get the screw to catch because the hole is too big, just put a chopstick in the hole, break it off, sand it flush, and then you can screw the hinge back on the door jam… Fixed!”  George was filled with tips and tricks for just about everything around the house, and he loved sharing all of his wisdom with us.


Apparently all the tips we had in our back pockets made us confident enough to take on this huge project.  Good thing we also had a few books and YouTube videos to help us out along the way.

As part of the purchase, the seller was able to leave any personal property of their choosing behind.  The day we got our keys, there was a burrito in the oven, a samurai sword under the couch, an ashtray in every room (including the bathroom), and dog turds sprinkled around the house.  Our initial task was making the house inhabitable. All the windows were painted shut, and it looked like no one cleaned since the 70s, so I chiseled the windows free and mopped the walls with bleach.  Our initial deep clean of the house also included filling a giant dumpster with garbage. Before major demolition began, we lived in the house with it looking like this for a while...

Our next big project was making our disgusting pink bathroom (our ONLY bathroom) look spacious and bright… stay tuned for the next blog entry!