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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers


It has been a month. Our campground is a 30 minute drive from our house, and every day since we closed, we drove to and from the camper, through rolling farmland and quaint towns, and--a favorite spot--over the beautiful Seneca River.

We'd work about five hours a day--doing demo, stripping wallpaper, repairing floors, making trips to Home Depot and Lowe's, interviewing contractors--then drive back, take care of the pets, make dinner, eat and collapse. Finally, on Halloween, our two-week extension at the campground reached an end ...

... and we moved into the expansive living room of the house, furnished with a few antique store, Marketplace and Craigslist finds, and a new bed.

I set up a temporary kitchen in what will be the pantry, we assembled a big cat condo to make the kitties happy, and set up a TV. We found out the toilet upstairs leaks, because the floor slants and the tank hits the wall, preventing it from seating properly. We had to go buy a 10 inch center toilet, which will sit away from the wall; later, we can move it downstairs into the laundry.

While the bath upstairs worked, the shower did not, and only the hot water ran in the bath because the valve was kaput. We turned down the hot water tank so we could fill the bath, but the plumber came today and now we can shower again! The sink upstairs is ugly but does work. The downstairs has a working toilet and a just-unclogged sink but we had already demo'd the bath. But we have a working bath upstairs and once the floors there are refinished (the only place we have original floors), we'll move up there and renovation downstairs can begin.

New plumbing, updating the wiring (one or two plugs in a room, seriously?), tiling, refinishing floors, removing wallpaper, repairing walls, hanging new wallpaper, redoing trim, opening walls, closing doors, rearranging fixtures, replacing a few windows--there is so much to do!

Last Tuesday, the fun began in earnest.

The week was ... stressful. Not only was there the presidential election (that lasted for days), Election Day was the day the asbestos abatement team took over half of our house. We had to be up and dressed by 7:30, in itself a challenge, and then the chaos began. Men started carrying wooden panels into our sunroom and screwing them together to create decontamination and dressing areas. That meant we had to move a lot of stuff out of the sunroom that had been piled there as we moved out of the camper.

Then they started stapling and taping huge sheets of heavy, opaque plastic to enclose their work areas in the kitchen and basement.

For four days, there were men in and out, lots of noise, lots of plastic (and plastic smell). There were fans running around the clock, and for hours every day, there was the whine of pumps monitoring the air quality. There was pounding as they dismantled the kitchen, and voices and music just below us as they removed asbestos from the basement. The cats were horrified, the dogs anxious. But finally, the vermiculite (that might or might not contain asbestos, but New York assumes it does) is a thing of the past, the plastic is down, the workers are gone, and oh, what treasure they uncovered!

We thought the kitchen was added about 1945, when the house was bought and massively renovated (unfortunately, not with preservation in mind) and the cast iron Heatilator fireplace added. But once the three ceilings (tongue-and-groove, wallboard and beadboard) were removed and all of the vermiculite and fiberglass insulation removed, we realized it is much older and was simply renovated with the rest of the house. It was built with parts from an old barn, massive beams and a mishmash of salvaged rafters. Rough-cut boards were nailed to these to create a level grid to secure the ceiling to. Once the nailers are pried off (and, once de-nailed, used to cover exposed areas of wall), we'll probably put plywood sheets on top of the rafters and re-insulate after the kitchen is rewired. Or maybe we'll use spray foam insulation and keep the vaulted ceiling. Either way, it looks awful now, but it's going to look awesome! Meanwhile, the kitties are loving their new playground.

Two of them disappeared into the ceiling of the 1992 addition for most of a day, worrying us. We've sealed up access, and they are not happy. But we are.

For awhile now, I have had a very strong feeling that the kitchen cabinets needed to be yellow. I tried the more trendy blue, green and all-white on my design boards, but when I tried yellow, it just felt right. Then yesterday, we started peeling back the knotty pine paneling, and guess what color the kitchen used to be!

So, although it will cost a bit more, we're going custom so I can have my warm, sunny yellow.

All of this is overwhelming, exhausting, and exciting. There is so much to do, and not enough money to have it all done, so we will do lots ourselves. But we enjoy doing the work, and we had good practice with our camper.

Our camper ... our sweet little cottage on wheels ... Now it will just be a camper, and I confess, I have had some genuinely sad moments since we bought the house. We worked so hard to renovate the trailer, and we were truly happy living in it. We had a dream of traveling the country, being footloose and mortgage-free for two or three years, visiting family and friends on our journey ... But when covid hit nine months into our trip, when we knew we could not visit people or places safely, our plans had to change. So here we are. We can still travel for a month or two at a time, and we like our neighbors at the campground where it's parked. I will sorely miss living in it. But let's make lemonade here:

We have a charming 188-year-old house that we are peeling back the layers on, that we are repairing and restoring. We will make it shine, and when we need a break, our cottage is just half an hour away. As the house reveals its heart and begins to take shape, we are growing to love it even more, and soon there will be plenty of places for guests. Before too long, the welcome mat will be out.

At least, I hope it's not long ...

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