Friday, June 1, 2012


On Easter weekend, the kids, hubby and I moved into THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.  The house wasn't really ready for us to move in, to be perfectly honest with you.  But WE were ready to move in, and we had a really great attitude about living primitively.  One week prior to the big move, we finished installing the toilet and two sinks in the bathroom, and we were so excited that we honestly believed that it would be enough to sustain us for months.  On paper, we looked at our situation and thought that it would be perfectly manageable.  We would move into our dog-trot, renovate a room of the house every month until at last the work was done, and voila... the home would be restored.  

In case you didn't realize that hubby and I are restoring this home ourselves--one room at a time with no loan from a bank--then let me explain why we decided to do it this way.  We visited our local banks--the same banks that had happily given us money for our previous homes--and were surprised to learn that the loan officers of each bank thought we had lost our minds.  All four of the banks that we approached said the same thing:  

"You mean to tell me that you want to take a loan out to restore a home that hasn't been lived in full-time by the previous owners since 1959?  Why would you want to do that?"

"Well technically, people have lived in it since then.  The Robinsons let a family friend and his wife stay there after their home burned, and..."

I kept talking for a while, but it was pointless.  In short, the banks laughed at us.  They didn't "get it" when we explained that this beautiful old home needed to be restored, and that we wanted to borrow the money and then do the work ourselves.  They wanted us to have a contractor and crews to restore the home for us, and that was going to a) cost more money than we were willing to spend,  b) cost WAY more money than we were willing to spend and c) result in a product that we did not create ourselves, with our own hands.  Now don't get me wrong--I would probably look at another young, crazy couple the same way if I were the loan officer and I learned that said couple wanted to restore an abandoned home all by themselves (without a contractor) and borrow my bank's money to do so.  But that's not the point.  The point is that we REALLY wanted to restore this old house, and the banks really wanted to lend us the money for anything BUT the restoration.  

While speaking with a bank one day, I actually was told, "Well we can work with you if you'll tear it down and build new.  We can give you a loan for new construction, but we can't work with a home that doesn't have a deed."  (Yep, the house is so old, and has been in the same family for so long, that it doesn't have a deed!) 

I almost vomited.  

The thoughts began to race through my mind.  

"I'm sorry, but this house is a very important piece of north Louisiana history, and I would rather gnaw off my own arm than tear THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK down and build a new home in its place."  

The thoughts were coming a mile a minute, and I said actually those words to a loan officer before I realized that my being fussy wasn't helping the situation at all.  In the end, the banks stood their ground.  But I did, too.  Hubby and I decided that we would restore THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK without the bank's money.  But there was one little glitch... we are not wealthy people.  We are middle-class, regular Joes to say the least.  So to make our dream of restoring THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK happen, we came up with a plan.  And now we're ready to share our crazy plan with you.

The first step toward our renovation-induced insanity (haha) was to make the decision to restore one room at a time, one month at a time, and use our cash flow to fund the renovation.  We had already learned (in our previous historic home) that labor costs are the vast majority of the expense in renovating a home.  We knew in our hearts that paying someone else to do the work wasn't going to be an option if we were going to pay for the restoration ourselves, and we loved the house so much that we were okay with that.  It took us a few months to realize that the banks had done us an enormous favor... for we made a detailed plan that showed we could do the work ourselves, paying as we went, and complete the house in two to three years!  The idea was genius, really.  We could work really hard for a few years and then kick back with no house payment for the rest of our lives... and now we're actually bringing the plan into fruition.  Will it work?  We think so.  You can be the judge if you'd like, but in the end the hubby and I will be the jury.  (And with all the money we'll save over the next fifty years or so, we can pay the jury off!)

So what does one start with when it's time to begin renovating a home this way?  We looked at the entire house and picked the one spot that we needed the most to live, and we settled upon a bedroom.  We figured that if we did the bedroom first, we'd have a place to sleep when we were drop-dead exhausted from working on the other rooms.  We chose wisely, too.  You've seen photos of the master bedroom already, but if you didn't the post I wrote about that room will give you a nice little breakdown of how much we spent to renovate the room and show you what a lot of time and a little money can do in a historic home.

So once the master bedroom was finished, we started on the bathroom.  We renovated the entire room, though you haven't seen the finished product on our blog yet because we still have a few steps to complete before it's ready for a proper unveiling online.  We had a bedroom, a bathroom, and.... oh, wait... that's all we had.  (And at the time, we were only a few weeks away from time to move in!)  It was around that time that hubby and I began to work even harder.  We finished renovating the future parlor and turned it into a temporary bedroom for our boys to share, and then it was time to move in.  We busted our butts in preparation for the big move, never realizing that the hard work would begin AFTER we moved in.

That's when it happened.

We moved to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK and realized that not having a kitchen was going to be WAY tougher than we had imagined.  But there was something that was even worse than not having a kitchen--and that something was quite a shock to us.      

Once upon a time, I hated to do laundry.  No, really--I hated it.  I didn't like the idea of lugging my children's clothing to the laundry room, and I liked washing my own clothes even less.  And folding... oh, the dreaded folding... it was one of my least favorite things to do in the whole world.  But you know what?  I have COMPLETELY changed my mind about the clothes-washing process.  Because I have now learned that not having a laundry room is WAY worse than not having a kitchen.  So hubby and I sat down with a notepad and adjusted the order that we had written down prior to our big move.  The laundry room was very quickly placed at the TOP of the list of priorities.  

This is what the laundry room looked like one year ago.  Notice the floor, because the room is so dark that the floor is pretty much all you can see!  On our first weekend working in the house, we officially nicknamed the room "the bat cave" because... well... I'll let you figure that one out.  It's fairly self-explanitory.  

Here's a photo of the room after we filled in nail holes, sanded the walls lightly, and painted the beautiful old cypress wood.  It had been previously painted, though the paint was incredibly faded and difficult to see.  I wanted something minty green in honor of Mintie Robinson, one of the previous owners of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.  This photo also shows the unpainted trim and the termite-riddled window that we KNEW would be a problem.  At the time of this photograph, we weren't certain whether we should replace the window with a new window, completely wall it up and then cover the walls of the room with drywall, or perhaps replace the window with an exterior door that could lead outside to my clothesline.  What would you do if you had the choice?  Our decision was relatively simple.

We settled upon an eight foot tall door with glass panes to let the sunlight in the tiny room.  Here is a photo of hubby (inside of the room) watching our neighbor Jackie and his good friend Wilbur using a door position realignment device.  (Giggle, giggle.)  This was hubby's very first time to install a door, so we were very grateful for all the help that we could get!  

The door installation was VERY simple.  I've asked my hubby to write down the steps for you, so here is the renovation in his own words.  

Step one: find door at home improvement store.  
Step two: argue with wife about buying door until she's really mad, and then tell her to go ahead and buy it.
Step eight: Trim outside of door, on both exterior and interior of house, insulating beforehand.  Step nine: install door locks and knobs.

Step ten: install laundry lines just outside of door before wife finishes the first load of laundry in her new laundry room!  

Here I am applying the stain to the original wooden floor.  We stained it, let it dry for about two days, then sealed the floor with polyurethane.  

After staining and sealing the floor, we painted the trim (and one of the doors) white and left the original dark paint on the ceiling.  The ceiling paint is original to the 1800's and is still in great shape, though we do need to give it a thorough scrubbing.  We also added a shelf above each door (for holding my collection of quilts!) and placed matching shelves above the doorways in our master bedroom, too.  

Here's an up close photo of our gorgeous plank floor.  (I bought the tiny rug at Lowe's Home Improvement.)  

Here's a photo of hubby and his clones while we were buying the supplies to plumb the washing machine.  With any luck, our kiddos will grow up to restore historic homes of their very own!

So after a long, tiring month, here is the finished product.  We still need to build a wall (on the left as you're viewing the photograph) to hide the staircase behind it and have custom cabinets built for said wall.  But otherwise, we're finished with this darling room!  I simply wash our laundry, open my awesome new door and step outside to hang my clothes on the line.  After we have new electrical in the house, we'll install our dryer on the opposite wall from the washing machine.  It will be lovely to have the dryer for rainy days, but truth be told we'd much rather hang our clothes out to dry on the line.  In 2009, I wrote an article called LAUNDRY'S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET that went on to win the 1st place award for "Best Investigative Reporting" through The Lousiana Press Association.  It's on page 22 if you click on the link below, and you'll learn why clotheslines are the BEST way to dry your clothes, hands down.   

So now we get down to the really, really good stuff.  Wanna know our budget?  I can't give you all the details, but I can tell you that we paid for paint, floor stain, polyurethane floor sealer, and a door that was on clearance at The Home Depot.  We still need to build a wall and have custom cabinets installed, but so far we're sitting somewhere in the $600 price range, including the plumbing.  Not bad for a month's worth of work!  The shelves we bought on clearance for a whopping $5 each.  I don't remember what they were normally, but it was somewhere in the $80 apiece range.  (The idea to mount the shelves above the doors and use them to store my quilts came from Pinterest.)  The awesome door was a special order that someone decided to leave behind at The Home Depot.  The store marked it from $400+ down to $220, which was a STEAL of a deal when you consider that the door was 8' tall and was the PERFECT size to replace our nine over nine window.  The polyurethane, stain, paint, and plumbing ate up the rest of the room's budget, and we had enough left over in the month's restoration budget to buy custom curtains and valances for our master bedroom.  I can't wait to show you that room... but that's another story.

Thanks so much for stopping by to check on THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK!  Y'all come back again soon... we hope that we'll inspire you to save a historic home of your own one day.  Hubby and I know that we're saving a piece of north Louisiana history, one room at a time.  And it feels GREAT!