This is the way our house looked when I first saw it.
It was five years ago, and I had just found out I was expecting twins. That meant we would soon have a family of seven living in a two bedroom apartment in the downstairs of Jeff’s parents’ house.
It was time to move. But rent was more expensive than a mortgage, so with fear and trembling, I set about trying to find the perfect house. We needed something big enough for a (quickly) growing family but affordable enough for our one-income household.
It was a tough challenge. The Seattle-area housing market was super inflated, even though the housing crisis had already begun. Finding a house under $300,000 was a trick. Finding one in decent shape and in a good part of town was practically impossible.
I should know. I looked at a lot of houses. Some of them were downright scary. The ones that weren’t were far too small or on the wrong side of town or so close together, you could stand in your kitchen and look into your neighbor’s house and tell them they were adding too much salt to their rigatoni.
For a girl who has almost always lived in the country, that made me feel claustrophobic and squirmy and a little nauseous. I need space. Five kids need space.
I just didn’t think I would find it for us.
When I walked into this house, I knew I had.
The view took my breath away. I could see those mountains from four windows in the living room. I could see them from the kitchen sink and from the living room couch and from the dining room table.
It was love at first house.
But, this house needed a lot of work. We bought it because it had a lot of potential, and at the time, the price was very reasonable compared to other houses like it on the market. But it needed work. Did I mention that already? Because it did. It needed a lot of work. So much work. This was not one of those homes that would just appreciate while we slept.
Nope, this house was going to take some serious elbow grease.
For one thing, the siding was rotting in places and everything in the house screamed of fast, cheap construction. I mean, I’m not expert, but I’m pretty sure stick-on floor tiles are not the definition of quality.
The most quality thing about this bathroom was the toilet paper. Kirkland brand. Nice.
We set about changing every single thing. We did it over the course of five years because according to all the charts, we were impoverished. I know. Who makes these charts?
Impoverished or not, we had to do it on the cheap because five kids eat a lot, so we scoured the area for inexpensive building supplies and materials and begged cheap labor off friends and family. Chances are, if you came over for dinner, you ended up painting something before you left.
Sorry about that.
For instance, you might have helped us paint the outside of our house, which now looks like this:
Hold on–don’t scroll up. Let me make it easy on you. I’ve got a side-by-side shot right here:
The trees sure have gotten bigger! But you’re supposed to be looking at the house. Doesn’t it look cozy?
But wait. It gets better.
I already mentioned how when we bought the house, the siding was bad. You can see how the previous owners tried to patch things up with a lovely piece of sponge-painted drywall nailed under the deck.
We spent the entire summer of our first year in the house repairing siding. Well, I spent most of the first summer in our house on bed rest. I’m using the term “we” loosely, like when I say “We gave birth to twins that August,” which, as I recall, was pretty much a one-woman gig.
So. “We” cut out and replaced the bad siding and trimmed out all the windows and any exposed seems. Then, Jeff went around and caulked every. single. seam and every. single. nail hole around every. single. square inch of the house. Using his fingers. It took forever. He bled.
But, he saved the siding from any further damage. In fact, it was just inspected again for the first time since we bought it and came back with an excellent bill of health.
That’s my guy.
Part of the reason the siding has fared so well (besides Jeff’s sacrificial use of his body in applying caulk) is because we painted the house with a high-quality paint. At first, it made me choke when I heard how much it cost. Seriously? Paint can cost more per gallon than a Starbucks triple latte? Well, I never. It was good paint, though, and we needed good paint because the siding is exposed to lots of moisture for about nine months out of every single year (you mean it rains in Seattle?)
Not only that, but when the sun decides to come out sometime in mid-August, our siding gets a direct hit.
We live in a very conflicted part of the country.
So, we bought the paint, and it has held up beautifully. I will never again balk at buying good exterior paint because it still looks brand new.
I took this photo yesterday, nearly 3 years after we painted the house. It still looks perfect.
We chose a darker shade of grey and added an even darker accent color. Can you see it above the windows? I was nervous about adding the extra-dark color, but I love it. It makes the trim pop and the whole house look neat and tidy.
On the outside, at least. Ahem.
We also added a new front door. We were able to find solid wood doors at a liquidation store, so over time, we replaced every single door in the house. The original front door was moved to the back to replace an even worse door on what is now Jeff’s office.
This exterior door cost $40. I’m telling you, God loves us.
I think it’s a huge improvement, considering we started with this:
That was $40 well-spent.
I also made some funky house numbers out of some leftover slate tiles from our bathroom project (you’ll see how we banished the stick-on tiles another day).
I love my house numbers, even though they look a little bit like they were created by a fifth-grader in the Craft Cabin of some summer camp in Wisconsin.
People think Faith made those for me, and I say, “Didn’t she do a great job?” because people like my weird house numbers better when they think they were created by a ten-year-old instead of a twenty-nine year old.
Or someone a teensy bit older than that.
Also, I know I probably shouldn’t put my house numbers online, but we’re moving and our house is listed for all the world to see anyway. Besides, if you come to my house with evil intent, I have five children and we have booby trapped the house with sharp, pointy Legos. While you are dancing around the living room with sharp, pointy Legos imbedded in your feet, they will climb on your back and call you a horsey and bombard you with a million questions about what life is like in prison.
I kid you not.
Moving right along.
You can see by the pictures that we added a lot of landscaping. Many of the flowers were donated from friends’ gardens. Most of the others came from a local nursery. I have scoured their “Take Me Home” table and 50% off sales for the past five years and have come home with many treasures that looked half-dead but weren’t. That allowed me to turn our yard from this:
Notice, I didn’t save that wagon wheel and we don’t even talk about what happened to that stacked frog “sculpture.”
But I did save the clematis that was already here. It is almost done blooming now, but it’s one of my favorite plants in the yard. Most of the others, including the fruit trees and berry bushes, we added ourselves.
My house is always full of flowers I picked from my yard, and the kids eat their way through the landscape all summer long.
It took us a few years before everything looked that beautiful, however. For instance, the side yard was basically a gravel/mud pit for most of the time we lived here. Originally, it looked like this:
And occasionally, it looked like this:
Or even this:
Just keepin’ it real, people.
This spring, we finally transformed it into this:
It was my father-in-law’s idea to mulch back there. We were going to level out the ground and put plantings in, but the mulch worked so much better. They even came and helped weed, lug mulch, and dig holes in rock-hard dirt. I swear, someone used to park an RV right there.
But it was worth it because it turned out so well. Sometimes, I come outside just to look at my shade garden. The kids like to skip across the stepping-stones, which we got for some ridiculous price at Lowe’s because the teller couldn’t find the price tag.
Which brings me to a word of caution. God does stuff like that for us all the time. So, if you own some kind of home improvement place and we walk into your store, there’s a good chance you’ll just end up giving us stuff. You won’t know why, you’ll just find yourself saying things like, “I don’t know how much a 2×4 costs. Just take it.”
Consider yourselves warned.
The entrance to the shade garden is an arbor I designed and built one year with Jeff’s help. It was a Mother’s Day present because he really didn’t want an arbor there. He wanted to be able to park things–manly things–beside the house. But he loves me. And he didn’t have a Mother’s Day present.
I planted grapes by my Mother’s Day Arbor because I have no idea how to prune the renegade grapes that are growing all over the arbor you can (barely) see toward the back corner of the yard.
Besides, we love grapes, as you can see by some of the harvest we’ve gotten in past years.
Once the side yard was completed, Jeff went to work on the back yard. He rebuilt the retaining walls and added steps because having a muddy Slip ‘n Slide down the backyard probably voids our homeowner’s insurance.
Although, according to all the neighbor kids, it was way cool.
When we first purchased the house, the back yard looked like this (and yes, that really is a slide off the back porch):
This is the way the it looked half-way through the project when Jeff came in and collapsed onto the couch in exhaustion:
And this is the way it looked when he was all done and I kissed him over and over again because it turned out so well:
My guy did such a great job, I’ve got to show you the before and after one more time.
If I could whistle in print, I would.
You probably notice the window in the after picture that wasn’t in the before picture. Well, that’s a little surprise waiting for you when I take you on a tour of the inside of our house.
Because you DO want to see the inside, right?
Join me next time! There is so much more to see, and I can’t wait to take you along!