Mar 24, 2013

The Awkward Uninvited House Guest - Cowabungalow

Pad Got Patina
I'm a sucker for older homes. 

Our family of five grew up in a crappy 1970s modular box packing 800 square feet and no basement.  Shaggy green carpet, artificial wood paneled walls, and a washer and dryer nestled in the kitchen blowing lint on our lunch.  I remember lying in bed at night, listening to mice scratch and claw in the ceiling.

I don't miss that place.

Turned 16 and a year from leaving for college, mom and dad moved us to a large 1879 Victorian.  More space meant my brother and I didn't have to bunk in the same room, and we gained a second bathroom.  My sister was a toilet hog, the single stall in the prior joint was always occupied for her primping. 

Mom and dad still live in the 1800s house, it's a nice base to return to for Christmas.

At 23, I bought the place where we live now, a 1950s ranch in decent shape but occasionally acting out for attention and needing sweat equity.  Just this morning, we woke up to 55 degrees as the furnace gave up the ghost and needs replaced.  Question: pay extra for a high efficiency furnace or not?

There's an 82% chance I'll never own new construction.  It's difficult to recreate the charm of aged beauties with today's vinyl clad, skin colored behemoths.  There's a stubborn challenge and pride to making a tired old girl purr again, customizing and reshaping her into something that reflects your own personality.

Mature is also usually less expensive up front, requires more labor, but you can make serious hay on the sale if you fix it right.

Uninvited House Guest
The above is background on why I'd soon become the awkward uninvited house guest on a 100-year-old remix.

Friend Alison and her husband Jay touched the fix-it stick to their 1918 bungalow, grinding it from a dilapidated disaster to a quaint casa.  Ready to move towards larger digs down the street, they listed it for sale by owner on a cold Thursday a few weeks ago.

One day later it was sold.

She mentioned Jay's a carpenter and banged out the kitchen cabinets by hand.  Intrigued, and knowing the deed was done and it'd soon be gone, I had to do a dive-bomb interview to get the scoop.

Must...invite...myself...and Pigtails...and Curls...over.  E-mailed Alison, boom, done.

Little Isla waved as we walked up.
LoLo barked twice.
The cat yawned and ignored.

Brick red foundation, cedar shakes up high, exposed triangular rafters holding the roof.  Oh yeah, I was pumped!

Mellow four season up front is caked in glass and the right spot to get your morning mojo on with a pot o' Joe.  Falling snow, mug in hand with The Des Moines Register/Locust Street Liar serving the sports.

1900s wood warmth greets with a smile as you step inside.  I was glad to see the original trim left alone and not slathered in white latex.  Nine foot ceilings and wide room connectors make it feel open, more so than my mid-century ranch.

Within minutes, Pigtails somehow had LoLo walking the living room on two legs like a human.  I think she was offering pup a Twinkie.

Craftsmanship, you don't see it often these days.  It looks like this:

I noticed different rooms showed different grains of wood.  Jay said back in the day when the house was built, they installed hard oak in the living areas for durability, fir in the kitchen since it's softer and less likely to shatter a tipped glass.

The Non-Kitschy Kitchen
Jay shared photos of the before, during and after on his kitchen rebuild.  I can appreciate the amount of grunt that went into this.

The before eatery was actually pretty good, with white glass cabinets and nothing overly hideous.  It lacked a dishwasher, Jay thought no problem, Alison disagreed when they got married.  He also said there was a hole in the ceiling and roof when he moved in, daylight shining through, but not the kind you want.  #birdsinthehouse

It begins, stripped to the bone:

Building it back up, notice the sweet maple cabinets Jay designed from scratch:

You'd never know the finished product is in a home built when Woodrow Wilson was president and WW1 was wrapping up.  Glass tile backsplash, custom MDF wall panels, updated hardware and appliances with a chef's gas stove.

And a dishwasher.

Looking out from the kitchen, no cramps in this bungalow.

The back entry leading into the house and kitch' was sort of an unused mudroom before.  Jay carried the kitchen cabinets and MDF wall squares into the entry, adding storage and a unified look.

Moving to Isla's room, each wall a different color, digging the wide wood trim and heavy doors.

She was excited about her new big girl bed and demonstrated how she lays still at night.  Then she jumped around all crazy.  That's probably what she does at 2:00 am.

 Jay built the rocker, good dad, it has a Swedish taste to it.

Iron Claw Water Closet
Next we splashed the necessary room.

The original claw tub is intact.  Jay said he nearly ripped the butt of his jeans when him and a buddy grunted to move the heavy cast iron boat during the reno.  Tiled floor, wainscoting and clean colors make a tight modern/retro mix.

Real Live Cave to Man Cave

"It was a sh@thole."  The bunker was scary when he moved in, this:

The concrete buckled in spots, he had to sledgehammer sections and pour fresh.

Taking care of business, a one man show.

The newly minted man cave.

The fresh basement adds what, $15K or $20K in value, don't you think?

Patio Seals the Deal
Headed up and out back, LoLo is possibly not the scariest looking guard dog I've seen.

Wish I was there watching as potential buyers made the rounds.  I bet they buckled in the knees when they stepped to the patio.  Can you picture a warm summer morning cooled by shady maples and a sweet tea?

Game over, sold:

 Jay did the tool shed, stud.

Curls said she wishes the timing of the house listing coincided with when she was looking for a home a few years ago.  I could live here.

That's it, thanks to Jay, Alison, Isla and LoLo for opening your home to share on B&P!  Killer work, not surprised it sold in a day.  Never did catch the name of the black cat, he/she/it/Pat was really good at ignoring us.


P.S.  Jay bought the house for $34,500 15 years ago.  That's crazy, they did very well on the resell.


  1. Wow! You ain't kiddin'! Jay did a nice job. I wish I bought our house for $34,500.

    1. I laughed when I heard what he paid. Jay probably pumped a fist when he made a several hundred % profit.

  2. I have lived in one "newer" home ... it never felt right. I'm with you, I'll take older, with character, and putting our touches on a home over new and fancy any day!

    1. Fresh out of college and working full time, I moved into a brand new "luxury" apartment with vaulted ceilings and tricked with amenities. It was a nice place, but like you, something felt "off" and it didn't feel like home. My roommate married and moved out, I didn't like the high rent so moved to the junky apartments next door. I wed, bought the ranch, finally felt like home.

  3. Anonymous3/24/2013

    Excuse me while I choke on air. Out here, on the west coast, you couldnt buy an empty lot for that price. You cant even buy a Manufactured Home full of mice for that price...

    Its so charming, why move???

    1. If you like this house, you should see the one they're moving into. Full of character, almost double the size and it will be easy on the pocket since they pulled the lever on the equity jackpot with the sale.

  4. I feel a new job coming on. You should go crash houses for sale and write about them. Seriously. I could read you all day.

    1. Let's do it, that would roughly double my blogging paycheck to $0.00.

      I'll see if I can find another house or two in the area to invade.

  5. Love the patio... well, love everything! Makes me wish I didn't live in an apartment and could do home projects.

    1. An apartment helps you learn what you want in a home, I lived in one for several years while saving for a house and don't regret it. You'll get it in time.

  6. Beautiful house, love the charm that older places have. Can't wait to get out of my cookie cutter home. Also, the dog is cracking me up. It looks like he photobombed every picture :)

    1. Ha, checked the mugs again and you're right, the dog wins.

  7. They did such a good job! I loooove the backyard!!!

    1. Affirmative, I have trouble just keeping squirrel skat off my deck, let alone making it look nice.

  8. Anonymous3/28/2013

    WOW- I LOVE that house. I too am "planning" (as in procrastinating for over a year) to build our kitchen cabinets in a DIY remodel of our tiny 1967 ranch. I've built cabinets before, but for some reason the kitchen seems totally daunting!- this is just the push I need!

    I'm with ya on the old house thing, next time round I would love a Victorian-style or move to Australia (where my parents live) and restore an old Queenslander. Part of the draw on our current (first) home was we bought it off the guy who built the house with his dad in his last year of high school, his folks lived here right up until they passed away which is when we bought it....can't beat having a little history!

  9. Great put up here, I like it. Keep up the good work..


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