By the time you read this, Becky and I have either moved to our renovated, century-old house near downtown or died trying.
Our move this weekend completed an exciting and exhausting five-month odyssey that began when we offered to buy this house from a nice lady who had lived there for nearly 40 years.
I was curious about the house's history, and the Lexington Public Library's Kentucky Room turned out to be a valuable resource. My best find was a promotional booklet for the then-new neighborhood, published in 1910 by Thomas A. Knight, a well-known Lexington photographer.
The booklet included several photographs of the street, including a portrait of our then-new house. The picture cleared up several mysteries: a missing front chimney, a strange door that used to be a window and a low spot in the front yard that was then a giant tree stump.
Never miss a local story.
Old city directories in the Kentucky Room showed that the house had been owned by a road contractor, a cabinet maker, a traveling salesman, a physician and an insurance executive. But we were only the third owners since 1928, when a Louisville & Nashville Railroad engineer bought the house. He died in 1954, but his widow lived there until about 1970.
The house spent a couple of years as rental apartments before she sold it to the lady we bought it from and her husband, who died last spring. She remembers the neighbors thanking them for rescuing the house from hippies, who were growing marijuana in the dining room. The house was such a wreck, she said, that the first time her sister saw it, she cried.
Over the next few years, the lady's late husband and his contractors did major restoration. They jacked up the downstairs floor and installed a new roof, wiring, plumbing, heating and air conditioning.
Still, there was much work to be done after we bought the house. For more than two months, I choreographed a parade of contractors. They refinished old wood floors and installed new ones. They removed acres of wallpaper, repaired plaster, painted, plumbed, wired and tiled.
We hired professionals for jobs that I didn't have the skills for — or would never have finished in my lifetime. I did a lot of small stuff: light carpentry, some painting and a lot of caulking and fix-it chores.
Moving is hell, but some of the renovation work was fun. And I am pleased with the results. Like any major experience, it was educational. Here are some of the things I learned:
Home renovation always takes longer and costs more than you think it will.
My house's former owners were newspaper subscribers. An electrician found a 1938 Courier-Journal in the crawl space. I know that the living room's pocket doors were last opened on or about Dec. 6, 1979, because that day's Lexington Herald was used to seal them shut.
Old wallpaper can hide a multitude of sins. So can new caulk and paint.
Old carpet can hide beautiful heart-pine floors. Or a big mess. You never know until you pull it up.
A leaky valve beneath a kitchen sink will fail at the worst possible time, such as early on Thanksgiving morning, after you have had $700 worth of unfinished hardwood flooring installed.
I could buy a new BMW for what it would cost to line and cap my three unlined masonry chimneys. I can't afford either.
I now know most of the clerks at Ace Hardware, Home Depot and Lowe's by sight, if not by name.
I don't need a gym to get a good workout. The most challenging moves of my stretching regimen involved straddling a clawfoot bathtub — one foot on a window sill, the other on a step ladder — screwing a shower curtain rack into a 10-foot ceiling.
Be good to good contractors and they will be good to you.
Caulk, paint and Advil are my friends.