June is upon us, with its symphonies of birdsong and the iris promenading in their purple ballgowns. It's hard for me to believe as I type this, gazing occasionally out through the open front door at the expanse of brilliantly green grass and blooming trees, that so much could happen in a year. Only twelve short months ago, we decided to buy our first house, an 800 foot 'shack', as some close to us called it. Not only was it so tiny that people walking by often did not realize that a house was even on the grounds, but it had been a rough rental property where at one point, according to our neighbors, TEN men had been camped out at the same time. The house took your breath away with the reek of cat urine, and had been completely gutted and painted by the landlord in order for it to be put on the market. Only twelve short months ago, we took a deep breath, kept the strait-jackets in reserve in case of emergency, and took ownership of what seemed to be nothing but problems disguised as a mortgage.
I remember pacing in this kitchen, trying not to explode into total hysteria, because the movers could not fit all of our boxes into the house. I have moved many times in my life, and you would never have guessed by the utter chaos around us that every box had been carefully labeled corresponding to the room in which it belonged. It seemed that the second we entered this house, nothing went according to plan. Things were far more filthy than we would have imagined after a fresh paint job, and there was no room for ANYTHING. Flowers on the far right in the above picture were a housewarming gift from the banker and the realtor, but I quickly began to wonder if we were celebrating making the mistake of our lives.
And how wonderful it is that I was so completely wrong. After days of thorough cleaning, and weeks of getting the rodents permanently out, the kitchen was the first pleasant surprise. Understand, we kind of bought the house without really looking at it, because the price was right in this over-inflated market; we had received a home-buying grant for this part of town; and most importantly, the house sat on two lots, which had great potential for ministry. So all I really knew about the kitchen was that it was the size of a shoebox and full of mice droppings. I discovered that most of the cupboards were the sturdy 1930s originals and the storage was simply unbelievable. My grandmother's entire heirloom set of china is in those drawers and the upper cabinets hold everything from an ice cream maker to all of my plastic containers. The cabinets and drawers are deep and high, spacious enough to hold pots and pans, table linens, and even all of my Christmas china. I still can't believe after all the years of having to lug out my Christmas china every December, now it's just sitting right there on the shelf. I even have a drawer or two with little or nothing in them, and I have all the tools and gadgets of a very serious cook.
We also learned that a little bit of paint could pack a HUGE punch. Best thrifty hint ever: we used the sample jars that they sell at paint stores and used them to paint accent walls. For the kitchen,I wanted a yellow so buttery, it looked like it was fattening. This room actually used took two sample jars, because I loved the main accent wall so much I kind of went crazy painting accent panels on the cupboards and trim.
I believe the red cabinet handles may be original. We bought an antique folding table for this room, an extravagance, I know, but it was the only size table that would work. Our ancestors indeed know how to live in small places.
According to plan, we did wind up making this room a 'parlor' and a formal office space, but to our chagrin, realized that the adjoining room, which we intended for a family room, would have to be our bedroom instead. The downstairs stair case was simply too narrow to bring our bed down!
Below is the same point where I was standing--roughly--in the previous photo with the mountains of boxes. The main thing we did in this room was to paint an accent wall a soft, mauvy beige. This is a color that is quite accurate to the 1930s color palette, and even hearkens back to the Victorian era.
The entry way going downstairs was actually the first area we got done, only because we discovered that one particular bookcase fit there perfectly. The artworks in that corner are still some of my very favorites, created by artist friends who mean a great deal to me.
We had quite the adventure in the bathroom. It didn't need much initial work, but when I was painting it on a steamy July day, the toilet erupted with an exploding geyser of water rising UP through the bowl. I'd never seen anything like that--except at Old Faithful. After calling the water company in record time, I discovered that they were testing the water main...and attempting to give me heart failure.
But on to more pleasant things...Here I went with another very pale, delicate yellow, and an additional color that is a little light brown, purple, beige combo, a color that just always makes me think of doilies and grandma's house. Someday, we hope to get the dingy, paint-spattered vinyl flooring replaced but that, unfortunately, is at the bottom at the list for now. (Oh, and I should mention that this room was so small, an entire paint sample jar pretty much covered it..)
Dear husband read online that in houses of the 1930s, they liked a color palette that was cool, like soft blues, violets, and lavenders. We kind of combined all three and painted one accent wall this lovely enigmatic gray and lilac. Moving a queen sized bed and and one bureau in order to paint, in a room where there is hardly room to walk around the bed was, however, far from lovely. In fact, the bureau that you see got wedged in sideways into our tiny clothes closet, because I had the brainy idea that it might fit in there. It didn't, and to this day, I look at the gashes in the closet casing and wonder how in the world we got it loose and back out. It had to have been that prayer we quickly said, when fifteen minutes had gone by and despite our groans and sweat, it was as stuck as stuck could be...and then suddenly after the prayer, it popped right back out. God cares about even the tiniest details in our lives.
But even now I love to look at this wall the moment I open my eyes in the morning. I believe the color makes the room look a bit bigger, and it makes me feel cool and calm. Dave's uncle, who helped us with much of the handyman work declared it 'the color of a Pennsylvania sky,' and as a former resident of that fair state, I'm inclined to agree.
And so now, let me take you downstairs, or as I referred to it then, the 'dungeon of all dungeons.'
Yes, this decrepit cell was supposed to be our laundry room. The washer and dryer that the seller assured us were functional were simply a repository for caked dirt, grease and hair, as well as other substances I'd rather not think about. After a full day meticulously trying to scrub out the crud, I discovered that no matter of persuasion or button pounding could get the dirty hunk of metal to work. After clearing out a full trash bag's worth of fast food wrappers and cigarette butts behind the dryer (nice), I bravely turned it on only to discover an odor that smelled like the prelude to a house fire mixed with skunk. And yes, all this escaped our inspector. After a few weeks of $15 a pop at the laundromat, we decided that a new washer and dryer on sale would actually save us money, and greatly please the lady of the house. The appliances were carted out and up the narrow stairs, and we thought things were rolling along, until it was called to our attention that the sewer needed to be completely overhauled. Pipes were so caked with rust that the slightest bit of movement could completely break them open, spilling out some particularly nasty contents. The floor drain was also completely unusable and hadn't been clear for probably decades. The floor drain had to be redrilled, and new master pipes put in place.
This was a bit of a complication, because on top of just being noisy, dirty, expensive work, we had just had a tile floor custom laid. The tile was a top priority, since the cement floor was crumbling and constantly dusty, not a good thing for my asthmatic lungs. The tile floor was laid by one of my favorite people, a man who's heart is as strong as his work ethic. He lugged bag after bag of cement down the steps without complaint and managed to make a semi-smooth, level floor from a surface of nothing but hills and valleys.
I absolutely adore this room, because I have never really had a bonafide laundry room before. A little bright white paint and some vivid art work helped brighten up a windowless corner. It used to seem a lot more spacious, but a local alley cat adopted us, and that is her kennel (with her four-week-old kittens) that you see in the foreground. No, she isn't the best thing for my asthma, but she does decrease my stress, so I figure that it balances out.
And last but not least, is our family room and mini library. The only thing I did in here was to paint the far left wall a yummy caramel color. It took us an entire afternoon to arrange the furniture in here; it was like playing a Herculean Jenga game with enormous puzzle pieces.The space is so small that we can confidently say that this is the only way that all these components will fit. Thank God, they did!
And just off of this family room is our tiny library. This is quite a multi-functional space, since it is a private worship area for my husband, (an Anglican priest), his dressing area, a space for his religious books, and also for my collection of domestic and home management books. We loaded nearly 500 books down the steep stairs to get this task accomplished. I adore the scent of books, and turning that printed page, but wow did that love leave me nursing my sore back and leg muscles.
This is just a fraction of our books, however. Dear husband still has five large boxes in our shed. There are also other full bookshelves throughout the house. The piles of notebooks are all from his seminary work, and their are many of his civic awards on the walls and shelves.
There is still so much to do, but it is dizzying to see how far we've come. The Christian mindset is one of redemption--that nothing should go to waste, and that all people are made in His image and thus are valuable and paid for with the most costly of price. This view extends to things like homes as well, that we are encouraged to live our best lives and see the possibilities in even the most humble of circumstances. Sometimes a bit of heavenly glory can be found somewhere where the floors might be uneven and the windows leak.
'Bloom Where You're Planted' really is a profound saying.
I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.