Long ago, when feebly attempting to restore a Folk Victorian, I discovered that the biggest challenge of restoring an old house is battle fatigue. It’s extremely easy to get disheartened. I know I’m not your mother (Disclaimer: I think I’m everybody’s mother.) but I restored this miserable Folk Victorian & learned some great lessons. I had to, in order to survive! I also had to keep going so that I would lose only $50,000 instead of $250,000.
I started the restoration with a more experienced partner who thought it would be a great project & when it turned out not to be, of course bailed on me. And, not surprisingly, my contractor was a complete bozo who bailed on me too-a blessing in the end.
To make things even more crazy, soon after I purchased the property, the Recession hit hard so my wood flooring company lost over $30,000 that quarter as we feverishly slaved12 hours a day to keep jobs coming in & our guys’ families fed. And every dollar I put into the restoration, working on it in my non-existent spare time, turned into 50 cents. Kind of like black magic. The really awful kind of magic that turns fluffy little kittens into poisonous bufo toads before your very eyes.
WHY DID I TAKE ON THIS CHALLENGING OLD HOUSE RESTORATION?
The wonderful neighborhood in which the house was located, Tampa Heights has a rich & colorful history as Tampa’s first suburb & boasts a large historic district. Most of the houses are lovely Victorians, bungalows, some Med-Rev’s with a smattering of Urban Renewal (Boo! Hiss!) infill. After decades of neglect & resultant blight, it has an active neighborhood association & I was eager to contribute to its revitalization. Additionally, I’d also never put my hands on a Victorian & was looking forward to dolling it up with periwinkle paint & gingerbread. However, the house was in bad shape & the challenge of restoring the old house was ridiculous. Yet, I continued on with the delusion that someday I would have a living room (L) & a kitchen (R), looking out on the back yard, (which of course was nothing but a patch of tall weeds) like these folks had.
JUST HOW BAD WAS IT?
Here in Florida we joke that the only thing keeping an old house standing is the termites holding hands. Well, that was pretty much the story here. I ended up saving only a tiny amount of the original structure. Everything we touched just turned to dust. Pretty much every piece of lumber had to be replaced-walls, ceiling, floors, windows-everything.
STEPS TO BEAT THE AWESOME CHALLENGE OF RESTORING AN OLD HOUSE
So what did I do in order to keep my wits sufficiently intact to get through this awful mess?
0. After much weepin’ & awailin’, I reassessed the amount of time, money & attention that the project would actually take. This was a hard one because the original estimation of effort, etc., was about 1/5 of what the situation was.
1. I made a list of the tasks that needed to be done in sequence. Each step that looked scary, I broke down into bite size bits. If they still looked scary. I chopped them up more. This is the important part. The chopping.
2. I evaluated my resources, determining what I needed for each of my steps & wrote a plan for securing items/people/skills that I didn’t have. My contractor was a scumbag who showed up some days but not others & left the jobsite such a mess I got cited by the City & had to buy many materials twice. Hey! This is Florida! If the termites don’t get it, the moisture & the heat will. And Code Enforcement’s riding right behind!
There was still a ridiculous amount of work to do, including going backward because we had missed some framing inspections. Here in tropical storm country they take those hurricane clips seriously!
3. Once I was aware of what was in front of me, I focused on purpose. I have been a dedicated & vocal preservationist my whole life. My mother, born in 1919, taught me about the times in which she grew up & about her mother’s life on the farm. I loved those stories & when I grew up expressed this love by preserving the built environment where these lives were lived.
As a neighborhood activist for many years, I know the power of neighborhoods. I had been connected with the neighborhood association from pretty much the first moment I arrived in Tampa Bay. The first house on which I put in an offer was just around the corner. I knew & loved many folks in the area who had put blood, sweat, tears, time, $$$ & heart into revitalizing this terrific remnant of Old Tampa.
4. I took really good care of myself. My inclination when I get stressed is to head for the ice cream & potato chips. I chose veggies & protein instead & religiously took my supplements. I went on at least one walk every day & did my yoga stretches. This point is very important because if you fail to maintain your health, it becomes more difficult to perceive, to think, to make good choices & to maintain your jolly disposition.
The challenge of restoring an old house can make you old. Time & money, the main buzzkills in life are being stretched to the max. Whatever you thought it would cost, you’re going to 3X it. You’re going to sleep less, worry more & even with your PPE, you’re going to be in contact with some grisly stuff.
Yeah, I do think I’m your mama, so watch these videos on health & nutrition. I am so not kidding here.
5. Part of my staying healthy was making sure that I did not expose myself to construction debris. My first walk through of the house resulted in a sinus infection that lasted 8 weeks. I got myself a nice stock of N95 masks & made sure I wore one any time I went in after that. I learned this lesson doubly hard when one day, I stopped by, maskless & decided to just peek in. At that very moment, a wall came crashing down like nuclear blast of mold & plaster dust. And probably cockroach detritus. I was filthy from head to toe. I went home, totally grossed out by the clothes I had been wearing & jumped in the shower. A second 8 weeks of painful nose. I expanded my mask policy to include peeking in.
This is a group of videos about the importance of wearing the correct PPE. It applies any time you are on a jobsite. Whether or not you are performing the work, you are in a potentially unsafe environment.
I kept 1 through 5 going because without those I was doomed. It is too easy to become discouraged during an old house restoration & allow those things to slip. Too busy, just a few potato chips today- I’ll be better tomorrow. Nope! I held firm making sure my special treats gave me the nutrition I need to withstand the stress of running a project 37 levels about my knowledge base. I focused on one task at a time, completed it & moved on to the next. I love check marks & I accumulated them like a miser with his gold.
6. I celebrated every win & tossed the failures out the window. (I had quite a pile!) I stoked that purpose by cruising the internet for gingerbread choices & pictures of restored Folk Victorians to keep me looking forward. Finally, it was time to face the last challenge of restoring an old house- go outside in the Florida August heat, humidity & mosquitos to plant the garden. We’d wait until the sun went down when it was marginally cooler, put on our bug repellent (Mine was olive oil with crushed garlic which didn’t smell too great but made my skin quite lovely.) pick up our handyman, don our headlamps, & work on the dark gardens for an hour. Any longer was unbearable.
And then one day, it was complete & I received my certificate of occupancy & the newly restored house was added to the inventory of contributing structures in the historic district! A few months later, I was awarded a banner from our local preservation advocacy organization for my “outstanding historic preservation project.” My beautiful little periwinkle with plum doors, Folk Victorian!
TIP: Another good one to read before you plunk down your hard-earned cash is HAVING A SUCCESSFUL BUNGALOW RESTORATION, Part 1.
STAY IN THE BUNGALOW KNOW!!!
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