Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Stunning Power of Elbow Grease

So, I buy a house that is not only in Oak Cliff (which has a reputation for ghettos, gangs, and crime that was legitimate 10 years ago and is still too true in other parts of OC) and that also needs a LOT of work. No way around it, my house was an ugly mess in a pretty ugly neighborhood. You know how my parent's reacted? They got up early the very next day, put the lawn gear in the van, and worked on the yard with me for 8 hours spending the whole time complimenting the potential of my house and neighborhood. I am so lucky!!!
As you can see, the yard had gone wild for a number of years. Large saplings 1 to 5" in diameter were growing in the fence and next to the house and everywhere a lawnmower can't go. Bushes grew across sidewalks and clogged parts of the yard. I chose to make the yard the first priority to send a message to the neighborhood that things are changing and to hopefully attract more people to buy and fix up other homes on my block. There's a lot of gentrification going on nearby, but it hasn't quite reached my street. The three of us worked ALL DAY . Between the saplings, wild bushes and vines we pulled off the house we had a brush pile the size of a small sedan by the time we were done. Meanwhile little old hispanic women kept coming out of houses and pretending to check the mail and staring down the street at us, I discovered the invigorating power of taking things down with an electric saw, and my parents discovered the awesomeness that is the wandering Paleteros (hispanic men with small ice cream carts that cruise the area ringing their bells and selling ice cold Paletas. They are the best part of living in a majority hispanic neighborhood in the summer.)The same corner, 8 hours later. Go Team!
(we set the camera in the car window to get a group shot)

My first floor tenant told me later that she got a call from her cousin saying "what's going on at your apartment? I see a bunch of white people in your yard and they're doing things to the house. Is everything ok?!" Apparently the sight of us was very out of the ordinary.

I'd suggest that anyone wanting to improve the look of their house start first with cleaning up the yard. Cut down bushes that aren't needed and do some quality pruning. Don't be afraid to take out large branches! As you can see, it makes a huge difference.

my second entrance, Before


The next day we conquered the upstairs apartment, which had been abandoned by the current tenants, leaving a lot of stuff behind.

Living room on that first day
looking into the small bedroom/office in the corner and the hallway on the far right

Small bedroom/office
on that first day

Look at the wall colours! The nasty dark blue curtains!!! 6 trash bags full of junk and a twin bed later, we had it cleared out. The tenant downstairs still had a few months left on her lease that I was required to respect, so over the next three months I lived at my parents house half an hour away, worked 60 hrs a week at my job, and put in another 30+ hours a week working on the upstairs apartment.

Here's some after photos of the same area from the pics above, but after a LOT of elbow grease and paint.
The same corner of the living room, looking into the small bedroom/office

The Living room entrance
after a lot of paint, refinishing the floor by hand, and a new (vintage) door

Up next on the blog: a series of dramatic before and after photos and a photo recap of some projects past

Up next in the house: Ripping out kitchen cabinets/countertop to put in a washer and dryer. By the way there's no washer and dryer hookups. Do you know a cheap electrician and plumber? And I think we'll need shelving. Basically, after the photo recap, watch Tracy and Marco make a complete kitchen reinvention happen with only muscle, imagination, a few power tools and $300 budget. Did I mention the washer and dryer will be delivered in two days and my kitchen is tiny? HA! Should be fun! (i'm getting excited...)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It all started 85 years ago. I got involved 10 months ago.

When you fall in love with an old house that hasn't been completely re-done, with scraps of history and damage and hidden tidbits all over, you realize that you are not THE owner of the house, you're more like it's newest steward. And once you fall in love with a historic building, the 7th floor of the Downtown Dallas Library, the little known Texas History Floor, becomes thrilling. From microfilm of the old phone books (which used to say not only who lived where but their wife's name, their job, and their ethnicity) to the enormous original hand written building permit books that you can flip through with your own hands. So the story of me and my house actually starts on July 30th 1925 when a permit was granted for a "6 rm brick veneer cottage 2 apt." A corner lot was split in half to build two 2 story duplexes, an apartment on each floor, which makes sense because it's quite near to the Bishop Arts District, a vibrant block of shops built in 1903 that was the main stop on a major trolley line. Check out this pic of the Original 1925 Building permit book. I scoured old phone books until my house showed up in 1926 then looked page by page through this old book with my sister until we found my house, because of course it's in order by date, not street address. Mine's somewhere in the middle of the page.
Almost exactly 84 years later, on July 20th 2009, I used my entire nest egg from a car accident I was in as a child to make the down payment and got the keys to the house. (A house is way better than plastic surgery for a giant scar, wouldn't you agree?)
It's been lived in by countless people. - I even inherited tenants when I bought it - and ignored by absentee landlords for who knows how long, at least 10 years. I fell in love with the house for it's potential but hardly saw it before I owned it. It was such a mess with the tenants stuff when I toured it, and my first Realtor tried to convince me to back away quickly. I couldn't stop thinking about it though. I just knew it was right. After looking at houses in the area for almost a year, my intuition, vision, and the facts all pointed to BUY. I wanted a historic place with a great location and good bones... and got it.

and it was a MESS.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm a blogger now?

I create. I sew, paint, install french doors, and wield a mean reciprocating saw. I graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Fashion design and bought an 85 year old red brick house in Oak Cliff that needs a lot of work, and I couldn't be more thrilled about that. My everyday life is a mix of being shop girl in a local boutique, being a fashion designer/seamstress, and renovating the house and grounds amidst the fabulous chaos of three canine sidekicks who love to destroy things when I'm not looking. My bff and life partner, Marco, is a super creative hairstylist who is always calm and always has my back. One of my best friends, Michal, says my adventures in home improvement would make a good blog, so this is for you Michal, and if anyone else happens to like it I'll be massively complimented.