All I want for Christmas is….a palm sander??

by Debra Chappell

View of my latest project:

IMG_8399 copy

Mood Reading: zz (had a restless night last night – think the decaf I ordered after dinner wasn’t : (

Hope you all survived a happy holiday season and are on the road to recovery. Around our house it’s always a mad dash to the finish but we managed to pull it together at the very last moment. Seems I’ve got the Dasher part pretty much down, much to my husband’s vexation. Think he prefers more the Prancer and Vixen in me but with my new palm sander, saw horses, fully kitted tool belt, and a gift card to Lowe’s, (all Xmas gifts from the fam) he’s settling for Blitzen for a while!

I spotted this cute little 1930’s bungalow while out walking the dog in October – ‘for sale by owner’. Though I (and the pocketbook) have barely IMG_8398recovered from the previous renovation project, the price was right for the neighborhood and I thought it was at least worth a look, if only to satisfy my curiosity. Half hoping the floorplan would be completely unworkable (or at least trashed inside,) and against my common sense shouting “what in the hell are you thinking??”, I called the number on the sign in the front yard. The cold feet I began sensing immediately just couldn’t keep up with my racing heart and after the third ring, as I was about to hang up, the owner answered. Damn. He said he was out of town but his daughter lived in the neighborhood and could be there in three minutes to show me the house….double damn!

And of course! As soon as I crossed the threshold I could feel it. (damn, damn, DAMN!) Funny how that happens… one thing I’ve learned in my years of selling real estate…it’s either there or it ain’t, and usually from IMG_8400the moment you walk through the door. (and if “it” ain’t, nothing a realtor can say will sell it. The intangible “it” always sells the house in the end.) And this one had it. I felt it the moment I stepped into the cute little living room with the cute little fireplace, with the cute little wood frame windows either side. Somewhere in the initial three minutes of all those “cute littles”, I slid silently past the “ummm, let’s see …” to the point of no return, before I’d even made it through the dining room. Though small and tired, it’s arches, IMG_8412built-in linen closet, hardwood floors and just the right amount of funkiness added up to character and potential (as in $$$), and before I reached the kitchen, I was already contemplating how I’d break the news to my husband about the offer I was about to write.

The kitchen was very small and though cute, completely dysfunctional. At first I thought I could salvage the cabinets but they proved to be too rickety and shallow for modern-day dishes. And though the cement counter looks swell in the pictures, it was actually a DIY project gone awry that had to be ripped out.

And since we were ripping things apart anyway, it made sense to get rid IMG_9211of the wall separating the ‘dining room’ and the postage stamp kitchen, and make it one larger cohesive space. Enter one burly contractor (and my right hand guy) Harley, who I knew could make it all happen.


While he and his crew started the demolition of kitchen and bath, I stripped all the doors and windows of their tarnished and painted-over

hardware…door knobs, hinges and all, and set about cleaning them up. A tip IMG_8999my friend Kitty passed on to me (she’s restored many old houses) is to boil them in a large pot with just soap and water. The paint lifts off completely and I’ve found that a good scrubbing with Bar Keepers friend and a lightly abrasive sponge removes the dirt and tarnish and restores a bright sheen. And even in places where the brass is worn off and it’s down to the metal, a light coat of clear acrylic afterwards highlights a wonderfully aged luster. (User’s note: Does not do same for your fresh gel manicure. Save that money for the spa day… you’ll need later.)

Much to my delight, and as expected, a red brick chimney in the corner of IMG_8927the kitchen disguised as part of the wall, was hiding behind layers of paintIMG_8857 and plaster. A Saturday morning spent chipping mortar and chiseling it all away, instead of the customary walk to the bagel shop, uncovered the hidden gem. Sanding with a stiff wire brush, and a thorough scrubbing down brought the bricks to life, and the whole kitchen right along with it. (and saved a tub of cream cheese and countless unneeded calories in the process!)


Next: What to do with that funky little low ceiling-ed room off the back of the kitchen. (the ceiling was about 6’ 2”at it’s tallest, prohibiting any IMG_8951dinner parties with NBA players.) And it had this thick, ghastly heavy texture on the walls and indoor outdoor carpet on the floor. It’s only saving grace were two newer large windows overlooking the backyard. Originally, it must have been a screened in porch. There was still an exterior window over the existing kitchen sink that looked into this…into this…into what? A funky little low ceilinged room with ghastly walls and carpet??? This just didn’t make any sense to me. Why have a funky room that has no purpose?


With the expanded kitchen space, I chose to remove the kitchen window over the sink altogether and make the adjoining ‘little’ room more IMG_9002functional. We considered raising the roof of this little room but that proved too costly. But Harley discovered the low ceiling was just textured over drywall and when he punched through it, we discovered another 18” in height – Eureka! It’s a long narrow room as well so I’ve decided to put a washer and dryer at one end behind louvered doors (which is preferable to their current location – down in the dusty, dirt floor unfinished basement) With cottage like bat and board on the walls painted white, and

wide plank wood floors under foot, the newly positioned kitchen sink and enlarged arched opening above it now will look into a sun-filled cheery little morning room…ahem, if all goes according to plan. The framing is done, the wood paneled walls almost done, and the laundry area framed, plumbed and vented.

Here’s a clip I took at the beginning of demo a few weeks ago:


That’s more than enough for now – next time: the bathroom and another progress report. In the meantime the National Pole Vault Summit starts next week so will have to lay down my tool belt (darn, it’s the only belt I own that doesn’t make my butt look big!) and get into PV mode. This space may be hijacked for the duration but hopefully when it returns I’ll have cabinets, countertops and tile to tell you about!


Cheers – and thanks for stopping in!