The Herald Bulletin

September 8, 2012

What a workload

With renovation behind schedule, Emma hopes to pick up pace

By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — It’s a great feeling to create a schedule and stick to it. At least, I imagine it is. My renovation is almost to the June 1 point on my agenda — although not quite.

But this is not my full-time job, and sooner or later I intend to stop hitting my head on a steep learning curve.

I have gotten faster at many tasks. I can quickly tie a sink into the water supply, wire an outlet and shimmy through the crawl spaces. Finishing one room at a time, however, means something new at every turn.

When I first walked through the Alexandria house, I knew the kitchen would be a problem. Even though most rooms boasted 10-foot ceilings, the kitchen only had an 8-foot clearance. Small in square footage, it was also to double as a laundry room.

Tim Miller, a friend and contractor, stopped by to give advice. Walking into the dining room, he turned in a slow circle.

“This should be the kitchen,” he said.

I knew the words were genius. Since I was going to have to replumb and rewire the entire house anyway, switching spaces wouldn’t add to the work load.

Since this area opens into the living room, I designed an island with a sink and dishwasher to allow the chef to take part in the family’s conversations while prepping and cleaning.

Hoping to simply strip the wallpaper and replaster, I found hours of scraping only uncovered ruined walls. Deciding it would be easier to drywall over the paper, I finished running the wires and rented a drywall lift.

Contractors had recommended I “slap up some drywall” all over the house. After I began the process, I questioned their understanding of the word “slap.” Installing drywall is hard, especially on a 10-foot ceiling.

A family affair

In a 100-year-old house, walls are not square, so Carl Bowen, my dad, and I measured and measured and measured and were still dumbfounded at the number of botched cuts we made.

Eventually we got the pieces of the puzzle to fit and it was time to mud the seams. Laughably, I thought that would be the easy part.

While YouTube videos can be a huge help, they can also lull you into trying some pretty ridiculous things simply because a professional made it look easy. I rented an air compressor and air hopper gun to spray mud on the drywall to add texture.

Whatever mess you conjure when I say “spray mud” isn’t even close to the mess my dad and I were in that day. If the mud is too thick, it won’t spray. If the mud is too thin, it won’t spray. If someone accidentally unplugs the air compressor, it won’t spray.

Never rent an air hopper gun. Seriously.

But we lived through it and the texture does look nice.

Hiring Miller to lay ceramic tiles in the kitchen allowed me to pepper him with questions so I could tile the bathrooms and laundry room myself. He also installed my cabinets, which were from Direct Kitchen and Bath.

Mark and Debbie Alexander, owners of the downtown store, were very helpful and even explained how to build a knee wall that would serve as a bar for the kitchen. My sons, Elijah and Isaac, helped me anchor the cabinets to the floor, build the wall and anchor the wall to the cabinets.

Rotted floor joists in the bathroom may have been due to the bathtub running parallel to them instead of perpendicular. After they were replaced and the drains were moved, my dad and I added a shower and bathtub.

Kris Bowen, my sister-in-law, helped me drywall the room. I stomped texture on the ceiling and tiled the floor. My husband, Rich Meyer, helped put in the vanity, mirror and light. Together we also added baseboards and trim (after I received a half-hour lesson from my new favorite Lowe’s employee, Tim).

We’ve already started work in the laundry room. Now that I’ve got some new skills under my belt, I’m hoping to make progress a little faster — and maybe with a little less gnashing of teeth.

Emma Bowen Meyer has purchased a dilapidated home through the Madison County tax sale. Her column will occasionally follow the continuing saga of the restoration project.