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Reviving the Spanish Revival (part 1)

March 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Over the last month my grey hair has become greyer, my frown lines are more frowny and my temper is more temperish. Why is my physical and mental health comprised? I will tell you why -we are undertaking a house renovation nightmare project damn it! Excuse me while I take a moment to compose myself….

My tale of woe wasn’t always a tale of woe, in fact things looked quite positive when we were house hunting one fine Spring day. Perhaps it was the smell of blossoms that lured me into some sort of magic spell but when I saw this quirky and eccentric house -it called to me.

Our house in the hills was built in 1972 with a distinct Spanish hacienda flavour; the pool sits across the front of the property overlooking the hills with views of the distant city. The three split levels are specially designed to get lost in.  For example, you can enter the lounge room upstairs three different ways – by going up one flight of stairs via the kitchen, by going up two flights of stairs via a bedroom or by going downstairs via the study and then upstairs again – confused?  Who cares it’s fun to get lost in your own house right? My theory is that the house was built and designed by someone taking an acid trip.

Under normal circumstances we would sniff out a renovation trap but for some reason when you fall in love with a house all common sense and experience disappears into a vortex and suddenly reappears 90 days later on settlement day…

90 Days later…..

With ‘most’ of the evidence relating to the previous occupants gone, (and I say most because we have found a few interesting things in the house but more about that later) we had a chance to explore our unusual abode.  We agreed that we would give the place a once over clean and then move in the weekend later…. well it’s now been over a month and we are looking at another solid month or so before we actually move in – so what has happened?

Let’s start with the pool, the state of the pool did not actually prevent us from moving in but was certainly a sign of things to come. I was concerned that there were more leaves in the pool than on the surrounding trees; clearly the owners had decided not to bother with pool maintenance after they had found a buyer so we decided to focus our immediate attention on the pool while summer was still in full swing. We turned on a rather old looking filter in the hope that it would magically provide us with shimmering crystalline water but instead it spluttered and coughed out some brown gunk and gave up the ghost within a matter of hours. Wasting no time we called the pool doctor who diagnosed the pool with inattentive owner syndrome and performed emergency surgery on the filter, at the same time transplanting a salt chlorinator. Emergency pool surgery came to $2500. Mind you the pool still needed rehabilitation and so began the month long detox program, of vacuuming, chemical treating, filtering and sweeping until the bottom of the pool was visible. Proudly, we both stood by the pool, looking down, mesmerized by the little ripples of water; the spell was quickly broken when we discovered a strange object sitting at the bottom of the pool. Julian grabbed the net, plunged it into the pool and recovered a rather wicked looking carving knife… hmm we wondered where the dead body was hidden.

On the subject of water we then discovered that the study located on the sub level floor had a rising and penetrating damp problem, not really ideal for storing my precious book collection. I imagined my first edition Carrie or Gunslinger covered in mold and mildew. Julian removed a few bricks behind the back wall and discovered soil piled 2 meters high behind the wall so getting to the source of the problem was going to be pretty much impossible… $2200 later the damp specialists had installed a new damp proof course and ‘negative tanked’ the room which translates to water proofing the wall from the outside.

So began the tasks, clearly delineated male and female I might add, I started to clean and noticed the unusually high number of spider webs whilst Julian inspected the condition of the walls and ceilings and decided they needed to be painted. Looking back now, this was the exact defining moment – the tipping point for the renovation nightmare.

Julian convinced me that we should brighten up the place upstairs, paint the dingy mustard walls white, paint the horrible blue fire place and remove the 80s salmon carpet with a view to laying down some floating floor boards. Julian’s salesmanship was impeccable, he confidently assured me that it would delay the move by only a couple of weeks at most and it was worth getting it out of the way before moving the furniture in. For the moment it seemed the renovations were confined to the upstairs section of the house – the nightmare was contained at least for now!

inspection day -the blue fireplace, mustard walls and salmon carpet is not really our thing

earthy red fire place, white walls, chocolate beams and window frames, floating boards to come… can you see the vision?

On settlement day we had discovered a box of old photos moldering in a dark corner, at first we thought that the previous owners had forgotten them but upon closer examination we realized that was not the case given the photos were from the late 80s and the previous owners had been there for only four years. What amazed me was that it appeared this box of photos had been purposeful left in the house by at least two previous owners –clearly these photos belonged to the house.

I decided to take a break from painting one night and sat down with the box of photos, being the curious cat that I am, I flicked through the photos hungry to know more about the past owners and stumbled across a collection of photos of the actual house. It was strange standing in the kitchen, looking at a photo of the kitchen 25 years ago!

The kitchen in the 80s

We discovered a photo of a primary school class and bingo there she was – the previous owner was the teacher in the photo so we now had a name.  We also found a collection of old postcards from her son along with photos of him – bingo we had another name.

What to do with all this information? Well there is only one thing to do – detective Google work , type in her name, track her down and give her photos back, that easy hu? Yes indeed it was.  In a matter of 2 minutes Google gave me the answer I wanted, I tracked her down through her son who conveniently had his own website with a photo of himself which though much older matched the much one I had found….voila – magic!

Photos were not the only thing we found in this curious little house of ours, we found an old silver ring in one of the old unused ducted heating vents, an old silver key hidden behind the fire mantelpiece, some old coins and silver bracelets strategically placed in strange areas around the house – it was as though these thing were places for some purpose? When Julian began to roll up the carpet he found an old paper $20 note underneath the underlay – this made me wonder whether it was worth knocking down a few walls to try and uncover the pot of gold!

collection of house objects

Speaking of finding surprises under the carpet, we found a completely unfinished concrete slab resembling the surface of the moon, not an ideal surface to which to lay floating floor boards. After much debate we (Julian) decided to self level the surface of the moon using 28 giant sacks of the rather difficult to handle self leveling compound. Getting the ‘milk shake’ consistency was critical to the mission, failure to do so resulted in impossible to work fruit cake style dumpings in the middle of the floor. Timing was of the essence, each sack set within 10 minutes so we had to work extremely fast and efficiently. We think it has been successful but hey the floorboards aren’t down yet…

water proofing the moon surface concrete slab

self leveling the concrete floor, you can see the difference

We had the opportunity to meet our lovely neighbours who entertained us with many stories about the house. When you move into a new house you can’t help but wonder if anything bad went down, for example does the ghost of a murder victim haunt your corridors? (probably not in this case, I’m sure the ghost would have gotten lost in the split level maze). The last thing you expect to hear is that your house was a brothel. That is right folks a brothel. According to our neighbours, rumour has it that our house was once a place of debauchery and wickedness. Well that explains why each bedroom has a door instead of window leading outside.

Our neighbours also informed us that when it came to house maintenance our previous owners were ‘very very laid’ back, we soon found out this was an understatement, more accurate words might be lazy, apathetic, neglectful so on and so forth.

The pool was just the tip of the iceberg, the house had been previously infested by rats, how did we know this? Well, the electricity circuit upstairs was not working because rats had gnawed into the wiring; there were rat droppings in the old duct vents, linen cupboards and in the roof. Throw into the mix a couple of boxes of rat poisoning. The house advertisement had stated that this house was perfect for those wanting to step back from the rate race – how about more like stepping into the rat race!  Further to this I had wondered why all the spider webs had returned after I had spent a full day getting rid of them, was it be possible that the zillion spiders I had vacuumed had escaped from their prison cell – the vacuum bag? – No! Rather it was because the house was filled with gaps and holes and crevices – every ceiling beam had a gap, every gap had a gap – Julian nicknamed the house ‘Shrek’s barn’.

Shrek’s Barn!

With enough paint fumes to keep me going, we were motivated to solve this problem.

Part of the problem contributing to ‘Shrek’s barn syndrome’ in the kitchen were the cabinets backing right onto the naked brick wall –  allowing for creatures great and small to make our kitchen cupboards their home. Julian decided the back wall needed to be plastered over in order to solve this problem. I was a bit reluctant to cover the lovely back brick wall but Julian convinced me there was way too much brick work in the kitchen.  Shrek’s barn, he claimed was quickly becoming Shrek’s dungeon.  The thought of reaching for a saucepan and finding a spider inside wasn’t very appealing so plaster it was. Then something odd happened, one minute we were just going to plaster the wall the next minute, Julian had demolished the old kitchen claiming the only way to properly seal the wall was to was to remove everything.  Suddenly our move was pushed out from two weeks to eternity.

Then came the kitchen consultant who  wanted to redesign our house. The house was all wrong she said, as she sniffed the air suspeciously, as if afraid she might catch something. However she was right about one thing; we could not remodel the kitchen in its current state to allow for sufficient cabinetry. She suggested that we remove the three beautiful brick arches straddling our kitchen bench in order to have more room; initially I was extremely resistant to this idea. One of the things that drew us to the house were the many arches including those in the kitchen so she took it upon herself to inspect our house and suggest that we build our kitchen upstairs, knock down a wall and make it an open living area – why of course we could magically find an extra $50K lying around, perhaps now it was a good time to find that pot of gold. Sadly we had no choice but to demolish the arches in the kitchen, don’t get the wrong idea, we are not renovation barbarians – we despise destroying beautiful and original features in houses but the Shrek look was no longer welcome in our Spanish hacienda so out came the sledge hammer and the hammer drill.

kitchen on inspection day, arches are now gone sniff sniff!

demolishing arches

goodbye arches hello brick dust

goodbye arches hello moving bricks

removing the ceiling

walking on air

It’s not enough for us to destroy one room; we had decided to demolish the second bathroom in the down stairs bedroom to build a study, writing desk and computer nook. We assumed the previous owners had intended this room to be the master bedroom and tacked on a bathroom as an ensuite for good measure. Despite boasting the best views in the house this arrangement of amenities would only suit those suffering constipation but my dietary fibre requirements are fulfilled and my preference is to read in bed or in a chair – very unusual I know! I suspect the previous owners didn’t eat their veggies.

What is the obsession with having two bathrooms anyway? Why would you dedicate two entire rooms to bodily functions when one would do? We were then told to consider the resell value of the house, apparently two bathrooms really increase the value of the house… but we only just bought the house why we would be thinking about selling it? Not to mention I actually want to enjoy my space, why would I want another room that I would hardly use just for the sake of waiting years to make an extra $10,000. (if that). So against all advice we decided to ditch the bathroom, tear down the walls – just think about how much more inspired I will be when I write my blogs now.

PS Check out Reviving the Spanish Revival – the movie

demolishing the ensuite

goodbye ensuite

removing tile glue from concrete tiles..not a great job

In the meantime Julian is like some sort of one man renovating machine, pulling down walls and ceilings, installing insulation, all the while rubble and smashed wood work is being dumped on top of old carpet on the ever increasing rubbish pile… I get the fun jobs like scraping and chiseling glue off tiles that had been tiled over.

By now we had decided the original advertisement had clues to the house, it was like deciphering the Davinci Code. According to the ad we were meant to enjoy passing storms – this actually means when it rains the water literally gushes everywhere because the down pipes are not connected or they are not there at all. We even get to enjoy a bit of the passing storm as it enters the leaky ceiling in the kitchen and through some of the window panels upstairs.

So as you can see, this is where we are at so far with the renovation nightmare and it’s not over yet my friends. Stay tuned for the sequel, the return of the renovation nightmare where we get to lay floating floorboards and install the kitchen. Will it be the $3500 IKEA kitchen Julian seems keen on, or will it be the $8000 custom build? Will the floors go in, should we have used a professional installer, can the indefatigable Julian pull off another renovation miracle or will it be a $5000 blunder.

going a little crazy

safety first

Gypsy helping to install insulation

removing the pot belly stove flue

removing Shrek’s pot belly stove

a woman’s work is never done

Gypsy cleaning up

Gypsy cleaning up… her treats


Tags: musings

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Anonymous // Apr 24, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Peter said, Keep cool!You’ll get there!
    Jenny said I feel VERY sorry for you as the house looked so attractive though unusual when we saw first photos.
    What a dreadful challenging experience.You will be changed forever! WE REALLY LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING THE RENOVATED HOUSE We are so glad you wrote that account Very Good!

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