Doni’s Old House Remodel: Home, Dusty Home

You may have read between the lines and figured out that I was basically homeless since the first week of July, when I simultaneously sold my Garden Tract home and purchased my west Redding home.

It's funny, because after I spent six months remodeling my Garden Tract house in 2010, I swore that I'd never tackle another major fixer-upper house again.

Doni's Garden Tract home in 2010, pre-remodel.

Here's my Garden Tract home's after photo, to show what a difference remodeling made.

Doni's Garden Tract house seven years later ...

So, anyway, no more big remodels. That's what I kept telling myself when I bought my adorable west Redding home. I mean, look at that curbside appeal. How bad could it be?

Doni's new/old house looked pretty darn cute, and appeared to need only some minor cosmetic upgrades.

If you've been following my old house remodeling saga, you know that I soon discovered that this charming little 1938 home needed more than TLC; more like TNT.

But the truth is that for this house, much of its beauty was only skin deep. Turn on a hose and spray the exterior walls of the house and the paint peels off in sheets. Obviously, this was a structure that had been neglected for many years. Even now, I'm still learning about this house from neighbors who come by to introduce themselves and invariably have two questions:

1. Are you going to live in this house (as opposed to fix it and flip it)? Yes, of course.

2. Did you get rid of the horrible mold? What the - what mold? 

All my earthly belongings have been in storage since the last week of June, and there's nothing I miss. My plan was to have the container delivered to my new/old house the end of July, unload its contents into the back bedroom (which is about 200 square feet) and then take a few weeks to address cosmetic interior details, like fresh paint, and refinished floors after the carpet was removed. I'd replace the old cabinets with new ones, and maybe replace the ceiling lights. I figured I'd be ready to unpack and disperse my stuff throughout the house by mid-August at the latest.

I figured wrong.

If you'd told me that I'd not actually move into my house until a few days before October, I would have said you were wrong, too.

And if you had told me that I would end up wearing the same five outfits all summer (not counting workout clothes), that I'd live out of a suitcase, install curtain rods in my car and become a virtual bag lady for almost four months, I would have said you were coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs.

The fact is, from early July until just a few days ago I've spent multiple weeks off and on staying at my twin's welcoming, artistic house. And I spent one week in a dear friend's elegant guestroom.

I even spent one week at a hotel, thanks to some wise and wonderful friends who gave me the hotel time as a birthday gift. Oh my gosh, what a treat that was: a king-sized bed, complimentary breakfast, light dinner snacks Monday through Thursday, a swimming pool, and cable TV for unlimited HGTV episodes.

But the best part about being in a hotel wasn't that it was any nicer than the places I'd stayed before, but that the hotel didn't require that I be a good guest, or an engaging guest. At the hotel, I didn't have to worry about getting in someone's way, or upsetting someone's routine, or wearing out my welcome. I didn't make my bed. I took baths every night and didn't wash the tub. I cranked the thermostat down to a temperature that required I sleep with blankets inside while Redding basked in triple digits outside.

I even spent six nights in the spare room of my 96-year-young friend Sue's place, who's a resident in an assisted living facility. That was fun, until Sue broke the news to me one evening as I was walking in with a pair of fun floral TV trays, that management wanted me to leave.  I knew that the policy when Sue moved in was residents could have company for two weeks. Suddenly, the rule changed to two days for guests. It was a shame, because Sue and I had some great slumber parties, and watched the news together each morning and night, and I'd bring Red Box movies and ice cream. We'd have wine in the evenings as Sue asked me to recount the full report of every work day when I returned. I didn't eat meals there. It was basically a place to sleep.

How many people can say they've been kicked out of assisted living? I can. First, I was 86'd from the Clover Club about 10 years ago when I went in for a story interview. Now, The Vistas. Oh, the shame.

My final homeless leg of the summer was spent as a house-sitter for a friend who went to Europe for a month. Thank God! My friend wanted someone in her house while she was gone, and I desperately needed a place where I didn't feel I was an imposition, moving from place to place. What an ideal arrangement for us both.

Son Joe, here from the Czech Republic to help with the remodeling, spent the first night in my house on a blow-up mattress, while I was preparing my European vacationing friend's house for her return.

Joe finished the cabinets, a project that went right to the wire when he completed the laundry room the morning he left Redding.

I finally moved into my house with Joe on Sept. 26.  "Moved in" isn't quite the correct term. Really, it feels more like camping. There are no doors up, because they're still being renovated. I still don't have window coverings, because I'm waiting to paint. Besides, somewhere there's a big bag of new drapes I bought before I moved, and I cannot for the life of me find them. So for now, my bedroom windows are covered in cardboard. I love cardboard. It's so versatile.

Sister Shelly nailed some cardboard to a bathroom doorway. Look closely and you can see the word: Push!

Way back in June, when I packed for my moving day, I thought I was so smart to pack a few "transitional" boxes for that time between moving in and having my container delivered. I never unpacked those boxes. There's nothing I truly need.

It's not all roses. You know those stories about women who lived through the Great Dust Bowl and went insane from the dust and wind?

I can relate, on a much smaller scale. The construction silt gets into everything, even boxes tucked away in a closet. So much dust. It's everywhere. It's really getting to me. All the sweeping doesn't help. The dust blankets everything.

Dust bowls.

I have a mini dorm refrigerator in the dormant fireplace opening, because the refrigerator, range and hood won't be delivered by Appliances Direct until Monday. (And I need openings in the ceiling and roof before the range installation. And as of this writing, I've still not found someone for that job. Man, it's always something!)

Behold, the kitchen.

There are no countertops, but that didn't stop me from balancing pieces of flooring scraps to hold things like my espresso machine, the microwave, the toaster and a hot plate.

Pacific Crest Granite was waiting for the countertop installation before they could schedule the template-taking for the Rain Forest Green marble. What's trippy is when I selected the marble and told Sylvia Crandell, who owns Pacific Crest Marble, which one I liked the most, she laughed and said that this was the same marble I'd selected for my fireplace hearth in Igo, 13 years ago. Apparently, I still like it.

Pacific Crest Granite will cap the cabinets with Rainforest Green marble.

Don't pity me. I'm not exactly roughing it. I have hot and cold running water in the bathtub of the hallway bathroom, where, not only do I shower, but I brush my teeth, as well as wash dishes in a basin. Not all at the same time, of course. The second bathtub works, but its walls await tile.

I sleep on my trusty camp cot, and I write from the dining room, which has an oak table, four chairs, and bamboo floors beneath it all. It's probably the most finished room in the house, with the exception of it needing paint, a window covering, a ceiling air vent, baseboard, a new overhead light, and switch plate and outlet covers. Other than those things, the dining room is ready for prime time.

I adore this little house, but I will appreciate it when more when it's finished. Right now, I'm relieved that most of the really big-ticket expenses are behind me, and hope the bleeding of money will now slow to a trickle. I'm still exhausted, but I took my friend's advice and got a shingles vaccination and a flu shot, because I know that right now, between stress and burning the candle at both ends, my immune system isn't at its peak condition.

The very good news is that the mornings are beautiful here, and I'm delighted by how the house is elevated above the sidewalk, which gives me a lovely view of sunrises.

Doni loves the view from her dining room table where she writes.

If this summer of uncertainty and turmoil has taught me anything, it's to roll with the unexpected, and to abandon expectations entirely.

It's also taught me not just the ability to live with less, but the virtue of needing less stuff. In fact, I plan to cull my belongings as I unpack, and not bring anything into the house that's not extremely sentimental, useful or beautiful.

This summer taught me the humility of accepting the gift of hospitality, and to not just receive help, but to sometimes ask for it, too.

Most of all, this summer has taught me how much I miss having a place to call home, and how grateful I feel to have this little house, imperfections and all.

And no matter how much goes wrong, I know I can count on the sunrise. And dust. So much dust.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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32 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    Your conversation with your new neighbor: “Did you get rid of the horrible mold? What the – what mold?” That’s the first I’ve heard of the mold problem. Did it go away along with all the tearing out of walls? My sister and her husband lived in a 34′ fifth wheel for eight years while they rehabbed a structure – could hardly be called a cottage – from the studs in and the studs out, all the while she worked full time. They had seven acres; so at least they were in their own digs next to the house-in-progress that whole time rather than having to commute. She, too, decided to jettison everything that wasn’t sentimental, useful, or beautiful. Instead of having numerous yard sales, she just bit the bullet, and since they live in the country, each weekend, she’d set out a “free department” at the end of her driveway, and people happily carted off nearly all of her discards.

    I’m guessing you’ll be able to have Thanksgiving in your new/old house. What a roller coaster ride this project has been!

    • I’ll bet your sister never imagined living in an RV for EIGHT YEARS! OK, they win the prize for being the most patient remodelers.

      The first time I heard about mold was after I bought the house. The disclosures said no known mold, which I now know was false.

      I haven’t even thought about Thanksgiving, but I have deadline to get what I’m calling the “Czech room” (the back bedroom) done before November, because that’s when I’ll have Joe, his wife and his mother-in-law here.

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        And I failed to mention that they had done most of the remodeling themselves, hence the long time in the fifth wheel.

        This will truly be a thankful Thanksgiving with your Czech family here. Joe will be amazed at the transformation that just a few weeks will have made.

  2. cheyenne says:

    Doni, I wonder if your problem with finding a contractor to do a small roof opening could be because many of them have been following your remodel columns and the hassling you received from Sacramento and are scared off.

    • Oh yeah. No doubt.

      I get flack from some folks who are close to me for what they see as making my life more difficult for myself by disclosing too much. I’ve weighed the options and know what I risk by sharing. So far, so good.

  3. Michelle Nicolls says:

    Is it any solace that we all took joy in reading of your travails. Sadly so. I love HGTV remodel shows…and your show too. We even did a remodel once to a 1939 mill house. (a LOT of work) Work “I” have to do…not so much joy there, but love reading and watching it be done by my husband …or others. Glad for you it is nearly done. In December it will all be but a memory.

  4. Brandon says:

    This article is so peppered with humor that I laughed out loud in bed at 6 am. You’re a bit of a comedian, Doni! Love it! : )

  5. Gary Solberg says:

    “There’s nothing I truly need.” – Very good situation for you, for any of us, to be in. A good rule for living.

  6. conservative says:

    Was it worth the cost and effort to refinish the doors instead of buying new?

  7. Ginny says:

    Sorry you didn’t realize I had the master suite as a guest suite. Only would have put up with 2 cats and 2 dogs, and me!

    Bless you for all you have gone through, but know that very soon, all will be together for you to enjoy for years to come. ;o)

  8. Darcie says:

    It’s gonna be good! Stay strong you are getting to the really fun part – and thank you my friend for getting your flu shot. Can’t wait to see it again – I might be up next week.

  9. Tim says:

    Wait, you got 86’d from the Clover Club? Is there a column that tells the full story?

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      Thanks for asking that, Tim. I meant to mention it in my comment. Interview and 86’d in the same sentence seem somehow juxtaposed.

    • Remember Renee’ Joule Patisserie across from the Cascade, next door to the Clover Club? I was following up on a story about problems with intoxicated people leaving all matter of gross stuff and bodily fluids in front of the bakery, so I went into the Clover Club to speak with manager about some of his more despicable patrons. The manager ordered me out of the bar.

      • cheyenne says:

        The Clover Club, The Elbow Room, The Porthole, The Oak Grove, all the classy joints are gone. The Tropics is still there though, isn’t it?

  10. Tammy Douse says:

    Doni, thanks for sharing your life’s adventures. It is an education for sure! Hope you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

  11. Grammy says:

    Sounds like you have the very best of friends also. Lucky you.
    I hate re-modeling, it really test a marriage. First time I met my future Daughter-in-law (wonderful person) she had to walk the plank in our kitchen going through a major complete re-model. We had taken up the flooring to put in piping for propane a built in vacuum system.
    The down side to living somewhere for 40 years, everything has been torn out, replaced at least once. Or in the case of flooring, many times.

  12. Joanne Gifford says:

    Your tale of ‘ The Remodel ‘ has been so entertaining . Love your style.

  13. Janet Tyrrel says:

    “Have nothing in your houses you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”…William Morris

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