Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fixed Up

Possum finds it much easier to relax now that our apartment is less of a mess.

I seem to have taken an unplanned blogging break. I hope you enjoyed spending your time on more interesting and productive things during that time, because I'm back.

Our condo has always needed work, When we bought it 19 years ago, we sponge-painted the living room walls (for a "Venetian plaster" effect) to camouflage their poor condition because we couldn't afford a plasterer. (I reently confirmed that there are at least two layers of interesting wallpaper under the many layers of paint, and I plan to do more discreet excavating to our poor walls.) The sponged look is dated now, but we still like it. If we keep it long enough, it may even come back into fashion.

We couldn't afford to give the top-nailed floors the special sanding and refinishing they needed, either. Our windows date from 1879 and need replacing. Our rooms are drafty in winter because we also have cracks where the floors meet the outer walls. I've tried weatherstripping tape and putty but some of us like to pull it off and eat it, or just carry it around, so I gave up.

My Dad, who is 103, tells me at least once each winter that I should buy those plastic insulating kits that you attach to the whole window with a hairdryer or something. And I remind him that I have five cats with claws. (And, besides, I'd rather freeze than live in cellophane packaging.) He's practical, so he also tells me that I should lower my ceilings with acoustic tile. I make a mental note not to complain about how cold I am on the phone and remind myself how he is not a New Englander. He kept his thermostat at 78 degrees all winter until he had to move to a nursing home at 102. He has clearly done something right to make it to 103, but I don't think it was dry-roasting himself. I bet it's his amazingly sugary diet.

But I digress.

Several years ago, a gut renovation downstairs required lifting this house's foundation to replace a missing structural post in the basement, which affected just about every wall in our place. Our ceilings cracked, and woodwork and doors went off kilter. For more than a week, our front door refused to close, so every afternoon a carpenter would come upstairs to sand, saw, and bang on it until we could lock it. He did it again the next day as the building kept settling. After the renovation was finished, the owner grudgingly sent up a workman to fix some of the worst damage on one wall. As for all the other cracks and crooked things, like the cleverly fitted cherry paneling that covers our bathroom walls and ceiling like a jigsaw puzzle . . . well, we stopped staring at the problems and got used to them.

Early telephone wires — perhaps relics from the Sabine family's decades here — still snake around our doors and baseboards, all covered with layers of old paint. I'm starting to like them. Very few Back Bay apartments have them anymore.

Our kitchen is nearly 20 years old and if our dishwasher or refrigerator (age unknown) should fail we will have to renovate the whole thing because no one makes new appliances that are even close to their sizes anymore. I think our built-in oven is a rare bird, too. But, after 18 years, we still somehow keep turning it off when it's baking, or set its timer for hours when we want minutes. I won't miss it one bit.

In the past year all this began weighing on me. Everywhere I looked I'd see something that needed help: chipped paint, scuffed walls, tired floors, worn clawed upholstery, dinged-up woodwork, shredded lace curtains (not the cats' fault), and messy piles of books, magazines, and papers. And let's not forget the grime and dirt.

So I made a list and over the past few months we took care of many of the easier projects — we can't plaster walls or redo floors while we're living here — and also gave the place a good cleaning.

I've written about how we finally painted the white repair patches on our bedroom wall and ceiling to match the older paint. What a relief that was.

I could have taken "before" photos of various projects, but couldn't bring myself to do it. Too embarrassing; nothing I'd ever want to remember. I could take "after" photos now but no one but me would find them thrilling. Things just look normal now: nothing around here will ever be perfect (except Harris, says Harris). But at least most things aren't a mess anymore.

It already looks and feels so much better but there will always be more we can do.

In my next posts I'll try to tell you succinctly about all the little things we did around here. This post is already too long for that. I'm just exhausted from typing. You must be exhausted from reading. I need a peanut-butter cup and a long walk. What do you need?

Maybe I'll give you an idea or two for your own place. At minimum, I know you want a peanut-butter cup now, too.


  1. The original part of our home was built c. 1895, and has had two addons in the 1920's and 1940's. There is so much that could be done, but we enjoy it's rustic knotty pine kitchen and parlor with french doors. If I win the lottery, it's gonna take a cool million to get this place up to date; well, maybe 1/2 million if we leave the windows alone. Which is why it's the perfect haven for cats; lovely places to nap in, no carpeting to grab at their claws, and I happen to like this house! Although I dream about blowing out the 2nd floor ceiling to have a lovely loft area.

  2. Have you considered interior storm windows for houses in historic districts? I have used the 3M shrink wraps and found them quite useful on an unheated section of my old house. My cat never bothered to shred them.

  3. We have used plastic on the bedroom and bathroom (and kitten room) windows and the cats don't bother them. not even the kittens. They make a huge difference.

    I am going to end up with a whole list of home improvement projects at the new house, they are kind of overwhelming


Unless you are spamming me about, say, Skype, I love getting comments and do my best to follow up if you have a question. I delete ALL spam, attempts to market other websites, and anything nasty or unintelligible. The cats and I thank you for reading — and please do leave a comment that isn't spam, etc.