I could pretend that I wasn’t in my right mind, or aliens had taken over my body forcing me to commit foolish acts of monetary recklessness, but the truth of the matter was I thought it would be fun to renovate a house just the way I wanted without having to worry about pleasing a client. I had only worked with one contractor in Florida, and thought his “manana” attitude was an exception to the norm, having only had previous experience with northern builders. What should have taken 4 months took TWO YEARS. The only thing that went smoothly in the whole project was the installation of the landscaping. EVERTYTHING ELSE WAS A NIGHTMARE!!!!!
I had been looking for a house to redo in an historic West Palm Beach neighborhood called Sunshine Park. The time was the heady real estate days of 2005. It seemed like a good idea. Let me repeat, IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA.
Betsy’s Florida rule number one: If the general contractor has a “fondness” for beer, there is a good chance every sub he uses shares the same joy in fermented hops. I had never been to a worksite before that had a trash barrel brazenly full of empty beer cans. No one seemed too interested in my “no drinking on the site” rule. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think sharp tools that can cut off body parts and alcohol make for a great work environment. And while I’m at it, how hard is it to remember NOT TO SMOKE IN THE HOUSE?????????
For those of you wondering why I didn’t can this guy’s rear body part, it was the height of the building boom and I couldn’t get anyone else for love or money.
When I first saw the house, I was attracted to the complete hovel-like ambience of the place. What fun was a rehab if it wasn’t going to be dramatic? I loved taking my friends to look at if after I bought it to see the glaze of shock and horror on their faces, while they tried in their southern good mannered way to appear supportive and excited for me.
For a tiny house it was well laid out with no wasted space on hallways. I felt its shape along with the front porch and its placement on the lot would work well as the basis for a cute cottage, but the three most important aspects were: it was cheap, it was available and it hadn’t already been “redone”. Actually nothing had been done to it in 400 years, and it was only 50 years old. I had to redo EVERYTHING. The roof. The siding. The plumbing . The electrical. The heating and cooling. (it didn’t have any central heat or air). The kitchen. The bathroom. The floors. The windows. The doors.
Once I closed on the house I hit the ground running, attacking “Antique Row” in West Palm for a few good pieces of split reed, rattan and bamboo furniture to set the tone for the whole design, then I filled the rest of it up with less expensive items I found in junk stores, flea markets and on eBay. However, everything was not second hand, I found wonderful accessories, a rug and even a settee in Home Goods, as well as using Lowes and Home Depot for window blinds and jute floor coverings. For colors and patterns, I wanted the feel of the 40’s and 50’s to work with the period of the cottage, so I scoured the internet for vintage bark cloth and used new yardage from Dogwood fabrics that had a retro tropical feel.
All the construction work was beyond my limited abilities, but I was able to paint the kitchen floor, upholster the dining room walls paint some furniture, and sew everything in the house except the living room sofa slip cover and the split reed chair cushions. I would have done the sofa slipcover, but I was running out of time and I needed a leetle bit of help. So at least the mistake made on that piece wasn’t my fault. I must say I spent more time ripping out seams then actually sewing them. I took a couple of upholstery classes the year after I sold this project, or I would have made the chair cushions too. At least that’s what I tell myself. I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures of this herculean effort as much as I enjoyed the creative oddesy I traveled accomplishing it.