Somewhere during the year after my mother passed away and before probate finished watching over her little bit of money, I decided to use my third of the inheritance on something that would have made her deliriously happy: home renovations. My mom loved her house. I can remember living in three of my parents’ houses, the last one for a very short time during college vacations before I got married. Mom went on to build two more houses in rapid succession after my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the second of which she stayed in for almost 20 years.
Every house my parents lived in underwent extensive renovations, usually by my father’s own hands. My sister and I were talking just last week about the resurgence of copper in the kitchen, and we recalled our house in New Jersey, with terra cotta appliances, interior faux brick walls, and copper trim. Oh, yes, it was the ‘70s and colonial times. Mom somehow squeezed 27 eagles into her décor on the first floor alone. My father poured a flagstone patio out back by the pool that led to many a skinned knee when our wet feet slipped on the slick flagstones. Daddy also turned the basement into a prototype Man Cave (he was ahead of his time), with red shag carpeting and black Mediterranean furniture. No one went down there during football games.
The earliest house I remember was in Milledgeville, Georgia, where my mother took such pride in her pink kitchen. In the ‘60s, knotty pine walls and Pepto Bismol pink were all the rage. Mom had a pink stove, pink wall oven, pink sink, and even a pink phone on the wall. In the adjoining family room, she had a pink and black sofa and a black wrought iron table with a pink top and pink ice-cream parlor chairs. You’ve seen the nostalgic ads of housewives wearing starched cotton dresses and heels to mop their floors? That was Mom.
When my sister and I were older, my parents moved to South Carolina, and we both married when they lived in that house. Karen decided that she wanted her reception to be in the back yard. Good thing she had a long engagement, because my father embarked on the patio to end all patios. Working outward from the sunroom he had already added, vast areas of intricate brickwork began to appear, including a dance floor-sized patio, walkways, and brick flower boxes. Daddy loved plants, so he had all kinds of flowers blooming all around the yard. Later, he had a separate garage built, and then turned the old double garage into a study and a bedroom. They never stopped.
In her last house, Mom had to hire contractors to do her renovations, but she never ran out of ideas—or energy. I can remember her in her seventies using a post-hole digger to plant azaleas in the rock-hard clay soil. She fenced the yard, added more and more hardwood floors, and changed her exterior light fixtures even before I knew that brass was “out.” She had her cabinets redone when they yellowed and kept up the wall colors to more fashionable hues regularly. Her weaknesses, though, were magnolias and fat little naked cherubs. The whole house was infested with them, but she never let them go.
When we came to visit, she looked forward to sitting outside on her back deck, especially in the evenings with my brother. He took the opportunity to have Scotch and a cigar, and Mom took the opportunity to stop moving. It was rare for her to sit down, but the cool of the evening and the companionship of quiet talk could convince her to relax.
David and I live in a secluded subdivision out in rural North Carolina. Our yard is full of deer and owls, but we rarely have a chance to enjoy them, because we have no outdoor spaces. The porch on the back of our house has a roof, but only enough space to put three chairs side by side—not the best arrangement for conversation. Inside the house, we only have room for company meals in the dining room. Our kitchen’s eating area is so small and poorly designed that, even with our little table, when someone pulls out the chair behind the table, it hits the air conditioning register, and if someone pulls out the opposite chair, it hits the island counter, and no one can walk through. We would love to have more folks over to eat with us, so we need space!
Last April, we asked several contractors to give us a bid to add a screened porch to our house and to enlarge the eating area of the kitchen. We had hoped to get new kitchen cabinets, as well, but the funds could only go so far. We will be able to put hardwood flooring throughout the downstairs, though, which will be so wonderful, since right we now have developer-cheap hardwood, stained carpet, and worn-out vinyl. It is now early September, and we just started last week! We have had architectural and engineering drawings made, chosen a contractor, and hit some roadblocks, but we’re on our way!
Next time: I’ve learned so much from HGTV, and some of it is wrong!