Before And After: Little (Big) Fixer-Upper Turned Humble Abode

“So…how’s the house?”

“How are you liking the house? Settled in?”

“Are you finished working on the house?”

These are questions we’ve been getting at the beginning of nearly every conversation over the last 7 months, along with requests for more before and after pictures. We’ve appreciated the curiosity and interest in our lengthy project that, in many ways, fell in our laps and sums up the notion that you simply can’t plan too far ahead, because life has plans of its own. Today the sun was shining (thank you Ohio!), I’d spent the weekend cleaning, and I figured now was the time. I present to you the before video and the after video, along with a few pics.

But First, Back Up, I thought you were traveling and seeing things and..?

I was. We were. But honey, money don’t grow on trees, and a river without rain turns to dust eventually. That’s my way of saying that after a total of 9 months of liberation and soul searching and traveling and often times, glorified homelessness..we felt it in our bones it was time to give ourselves some rest and hang up our backpacks.

It’s April. On the 16th, it’ll officially mark 1 year that we left for Ireland, with cautious optimism and an open ended plan: if we didn’t like it, if things didn’t work out, etc.. we’d just come home. First, we’d travel around, but then, after we’d had our fill, we’d come home. Last April, I was frantically packing my bags, completely unnerved by my last minute decision to join Pat in Ireland, rather than wait until July. If you would have told me then that I would be living in a house in the town where I grew up, a mile or so away from my parents, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where else I’d be, but I wouldn’t have believed that scenario.

But here we are- Living in my hometown, in a rental home that my parents purchased last summer, working full-time, and rebuilding ourselves for our next life adventure, whatever that may be.

Ok, Ok, Back To The House. How Did This Happen?

It was pretty spontaneous. My mom has managed another rental property for a while now, and she’s always been on the hunt for another one. She found this little fixer-upper and was casually looking into it, given that the price was so low and it had been on the market for a while. She was interested, but hesitant, given the amount of work this place needed. It wasn’t livable, and hadn’t been lived in for years.

Basically, while Pat and I were in Ireland, quickly checking off things on our list of “What We Don’t Want”, we were keeping our options open. We’d had experience doing workaways, and were pretty confident in our work ethic, our creativity, and open to opportunities as they presented themselves. I put that out there to my mom, saying that if she was serious about buying it, I’d love to take a look at it when I was back in the states for a wedding. If it worked out, Pat and I would take on the task of “fixing it up” while we were job searching. No one else would be able to offer that much time in manual labor, which would save her money, and would allow us time to live rent-free while looking for jobs, without going completely mad from idleness in the process. “Besides,” I had told her, “how hard could it be?”.  Word to the wise: a lot harder than it looks. That’s the fault of an untrained eye.

When I was home in July, my mom was still contemplating..she hadn’t put any bids or anything like that.. but I noticed how she was saying things like, “When we have it, we’ll ___” and “I’ll update this…and this….” etc. She had formed an attachment. So, we made our first video that day as we walked through, an effort to show Pat what this place was like, as he was still busking and living in a hostel in Galway while I was back for my friend’s wedding. That’s why when you watch the first video, it’s all addressed to him, so he could get a feel for whether he would be interested in taking on this project.

Long story short, the house was bought as-is after a nail-biting auction, and we got to work within days of landing back in Ohio. The pressure was on- the house had been a steal, but it wouldnt be worth much if Pat and Kyla, jack-of-all-trades, couldnt put their money where their mouth was. I’d made quite a pitch, and the time had come to put  my loose-lipped words into productive and money-saving action.

The first two days I did laps, walking through the dark and dilapidated rooms with my arms crossed, a mask on my face, and a furrowed brow. While running my hand through my increasingly frizzed out hair, I gave speeches to myself in my head with two separate but distinct tones: the first with the kind of juvenile confidence that only comes from inexperience, echoing that of Jessica’s Daily Affirmation,  and the second, more cynical and more believable, “there’s no way you can do this”.  I was exhausted before I even began, just from questioning myself on where to even begin. I was sure of my limitations, but I did not yet know my abilities (cue life lesson). People around us had their doubts, too, and my mom’s encouraging-but-also-in-some-ways-vaguely-threatening words would echo fearfully through my head, “Kyla does anything she sets her mind to. She says she can do it, so she will.” With those words, she shut those Debbie Doubters right up, while simultaneously and quite literally striking me with the fear of God.

I have to admit, I was pretty sure she was talking about an old version of myself, but I didn’t say anything. I just tried to believe it, especially after certain experiences we’d had in the last year. But enough with the self-doubt, it was time to get to work, and get to work we did. Afterall, Beyonce gives herself 1 day of self-pity and then she’s back to work, so.. what else is there to say except Game On. *hair flip*

To sum it up: YouTube is a wonderful tool, and so is having the humility to ask question after question. I can’t even tell you how many times we both used the words, “How do I…?” and “Am I doing this right?”. We found that a lot of the work was tedious, but it was not hard. Starting really was the hardest part, and staying committed to a task all the way through was a close second.

We pulled up carpet to reveal hardwood floors completely painted white. We pulled up linoleum to find the same, plus old thick glue. We had to rent multiple kinds of sanders and hand scrape the original wood before we could even think about refinishing. Once that was done about a week later refinishing was a breeze, and the results completely lovely.

The paint on the walls had never been primed, or had been painted in high humidity, so rooms we thought were “pretty much livable” were not.. I noticed a little chip one day, and to my horror,  when I picked at it, it opened up into a gaping hole, loose at the edges like a deflated balloon. We had to pull paint off all the walls nearly every room, and it came off easily in huge stretchy strips. Once we did that, it was brought to our attention that the walls beneath had never been patched, and inch-wide cracks ran floor to ceiling in the corners, and above the windows. “That can’t be good, right?”. We got very friendly with the buttery paste that is dry-wall and joint compound, and waiting 24 hours to sand and add more.

We had to gut the entire bathroom once we found out there were holes in the original cast-iron piping, which had rotted the floor. We had to gut the kitchen cabinets and the sink, because the original cast-iron sink had holes in it as well.

Before and After of the bathroom closet- it’s the little things.
“Pat’s your demo man”

We had to strip and scrape old wallpaper and paint for days in a row. We did this all with face masks in August/September heat, since we didnt know how old the paint and wallpaper were, and the air was thick with dust and particles. I wore the same clothes everyday, which stank and became translucent thanks to sweat. It was August/September afterall, and we had no air conditioning or electricity for that matter, and no running water. I’d say we earned our keep 🙂

We had my parents help when they had time, and the occasional much-appreciated and much-needed oversight and instruction from Mark, our family friend and very skilled handy man. We would have been screwing things up left and right without his help, and what we couldnt do, he was able to jump in and get it done in half the time it would have taken us. Dad spent an entire weekend cutting and gluing faux tin to the ugly ceiling tiles for quite an elegant result:


To recap. Things we did: scrape and re-drywall all walls, pulled up carpet and sanded/scraped/refinished hardwood floors, painted baseboards and walls/ceilings, scraped and primed/painted the porch and garage, tore out all bathroom and kitchen appliances and flooring, picked paint colors, found bargains on appliances, and made many runs to the local dump. I cant really even remember what else.

Things we did not do: plumbing, installing the shower and extra light sockets/light fixtures, and installing the cabinets/kitchen sink and disposal. We also didn’t do the siding/installation of new windows.

In summary, we learned a lot, we gained a lot of skills, and we have a lot to be thankful for 7 months after having nothing on our horizon. I started to refer to the shower as my “happy place”, and developed a borderline unhealthy showering routine, because I was so happy to have a shower of my own, and to know I was going to get to use it everyday, guaranteed, for as long as I wanted, and as hot as I wanted (sorry fish). I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences (well…can’t lie. I’d trade a few. There were a few moments/people we could have done without for sure), because the last 2 years were incredible overall.

I will say though: Not having consistent access to your basics, and being at the mercy of whoever you were staying with for an extended time..well.. that makes you appreciate the simple things on a whole new level.  Has traveling made me materialistic, hoarding objects now that I have rooms to put them in, and as a result, done the opposite of making me appreciate the value of having less? Absolutely not. I can happily live with less than before, and I value my time and my relationships, and my life even more than before. But, I do love my shower now more than I’ve ever even thought about it before, and get giddy about buying body wash and soaps (I have so many earthy, organic, local, hand-made soaps with essential oils that I scrub myself raw trying to get to the next one, ask Pat, he’ll tell you). I’m enjoying being close to family who we spend time with and who are supportive and happy to have us around (I mean for God’s sake, they thought we’d be in Ireland, now we’re down the street!). I love our bed, and our room, and our kitchen, and all things in my refrigerator. I love candles and cooking and eating in on my own dishes, and making coffee and drinking it out of my own mugs, and I love my dog. I love knowing that when I get home, the only person who’s rules I have to live by are the ones that Pat and I make together. I love knowing that when I get home, he’s going to be the only one there. “I love my whole house! My whole house is great! I can do anything good!” Haha ok, Jessica 😉 Since I basically did my own affirmation, I’ll just post her video here incase you didn’t click on the link above, or incase you somehow missed this incredible child’s video from 2009.

I think that finally brings me to my before and after videos of our little house that we’re happily enjoying until who-knows-when. Thank you to everyone who’s asked, and to everyone who’s visited, and to everyone who’s helped out in all the ways you have. Thank you, mom and dad, for being the best landlords, and for all the support you’ve given us, and for this opportunity to rebuild with a stable roof over our head. It’s been a hoot and a half.

Without further ado (I’m wordy, I know), here’s the before, from July. Enjoy. It’s gorgeous. Full of potential. 😀 Quality is not great as it was taken on Braydon’s cell-phone, but I think you’ll get the gist, inbetween my sass, my ass (thanks Braydon), and various references to Honey Badger and Zoolander, both of which give me way too much entertainment then and now.

And drumroll!!!!!! The pretty-much final product. There are little things that still need done, like door frames and painted doors, and touch ups, etc.. but..We are all so proud of this little house, (and my beetle juice leggings), and that stuff can wait.

Hope you enjoyed both of those! Here are a few more pics of before and after of the outside of the house:

And, finally finally, we’re quite happy to announce that our little house, after all of the work and patience and time we all put into it, has tripled in value! Woo! Hard work does pay off, as they say, but I’m not sure we’re giving up this gem anytime soon. (Thankfully, too, because being homeless is… stressful.. to put it lightly)

Come on over, the door’s open. See you all soon!


Love and beijos from Strawberry Town,

Kyla and Pat

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