Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Open Letter to the Previous Owner of Our Home

Dear Mrs. Dorothy,

I would like to speak to you concerning the state of our home, which, until just over a year ago, was your home. I realize that I have never met you nor will I ever be able to do so (Read: You passed away. Your kids sold us the house. It had been for sale for a year, and we talked them down to way below the market value. Sorry.), but that's okay. I'm really good at passive-aggressive letters.

First, I would like to assure you that I understand your situation. You were an elderly widow living with your elderly daughter; therefore, the two of you probably had a difficult time with the upkeep of the home, and you likely relied on male relatives and/or friends to do repairs and maintenance. If said male relatives and/or friends were inept, stupid, or just generally lazy, you couldn't prevent them from being themselves, as you were at their mercy. Also, you evidently took your age as an excuse to preserve your home as the Museum for Ridiculously Outdated and Tacky Furnishings. As I understand it, this is a right some people enjoy to the fullest. This is America. I can respect your freedom.

What I cannot understand is why you allowed some things to get so bad. Like, so bad that we are a little frightened of the gutter/roof/dormer leak in the living room. We keep plastering and painting, but the water bubbles just keep coming back. Also, were you aware that you had an entire infestation of poison ivy lining the south side of the house and surrounding the air conditioning unit? My father found out the hard way. I don't think his face fully recovered. We call him "Quasimoto" to this very day. In addition, my husband had to uproot a six foot growth of poison ivy (it really had become a tree at this point) from behind the garage, unfortunately taking with it a lovely rose bush that I am sure you had planted some time back in the, say, eighties. I apologize if this knowledge pains you. I enjoyed those roses last summer myself.

We find jerry-rigged repairs every day, and I am continually amazed at the general attitude of half-assedness that seems to emanate from past projects. I apologize for the use of such a word. But really, only a person with half of an ass could have accomplished such feats of laziness. I am alluding to the paint splatters on the woodwork, the ridiculously sloppy painting jobs in every room, the various nails, screws, and hardware put directly into the woodwork whenever possible, the crazily applied linoleum in the bathrooms and kitchen, and the mysteriously large cut-out-and-then-hastily-plastered-over rectangles in the upstairs bedroom (what in the world were you doing in the walls?), as well as a thousand other tiny mistakes and cut corners we find daily. Did you see these things? Did they bother you at all?

When we moved in, we understood full well what we were up against. We were moving into a 60-year-old home. Things were bound to be screwed up, and we prepared ourselves for the worst. Miraculously, we are only the third owners, and we always count our blessings that the strange things we encounter are relatively minor. But still. Mrs. Dorothy. Does that really excuse the indoor-outdoor carpeting in the leaky basement? The same carpeting that my parents toiled to rip up, only to find nasty black mold lurking underneath? Or how about the bright green astroturf adhered to the front porch. I understand that you were old, and therefore prone to slipping in the icy winters. But really. Mrs. Dorothy. Bright green astroturf?

Tsk, tsk.

While we're on the subject of the front of the house, I'd like you to take a moment to remember what it looks like. It's a nice house, a cute Cape Cod, and we have big plans to make it stand out in the neighborhood. But Mrs. Dorothy, some of your choices are cramping my decorative style. Take, for example, the new roof you had done just a few years back. It's green, Mrs. Dorothy. Unmistakably green. This wouldn't be so bad if I wanted to keep the house white. Actually, it's rather a nice contrast to the white. But turn your head left and then right, glancing at the houses up and down our street. How many of them would you say are white? Perhaps 60%? 75%? You can see now why I'd like to steer clear from white when we, as we hope to in the near future, reside the house. And that will be difficult with the green roof.

Since you liked green so much (green astroturf, green roof), at some point you thought to yourself, "I know what would really make this place pop: grass green shutters!" And by golly, someone let you run wild with that idea. Those shutters are, by far, the most identifiable feature of our entire house. When I give directions to anyone, I just tell them to look for the green shutters. You have no idea how much those shutters pain me. I would rather pretend they don't exist.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps I should, for a moment, dwell on the positives. You had only put one layer of carpeting down on the hard wood floor, so we had no trouble ripping that up and exposing the beautiful original flooring. You did virtually no updating or remodeling (at least updating within the last 20 years), so while we have a lot of work to do, at least we don't have to live with any huge, unremovable renovation mistakes. You planted some lovely perennials in the back, which are right now starting to blossom. I have no patience with tulips or daffodils or lilies, so I admire you greatly for this. Perhaps best of all, you left the woodwork and original doors alone. In fact, I am in love with the doors in this house. Here's my favorite one, the door to the closet in the master bedroom:

Sigh. Completely lovely. So slender and tall, with perfectly aged hardware. The wood has just a hint of red in it, and I am so glad that the only kind of paint I have to strip off of the woodwork is in the form of small spatters, instead of, you know, completely covering the entirety of the wood.

Oh, wait. With one exception. The back of the bathroom door.

Mrs. Dorothy. Really. What were you thinking? I am assuming that you had a hand in this atrocity, as a chip in the paint reveals several different layers and colors of paint, leading me to believe that, even if you weren't the original offender, you did nothing to restore the door to its original beauty, instead opting to simply keep painting it. I think the thing that bothers me the most is that the doorknob plate is also painted, as well as the hinges. Sigh. I am not looking forward to stripping those.

I'll skip over the presence of a full-fledged window, complete with (now rotting) interior window trim in the downstairs shower and instead draw you attention to the Roman shades you left us in the sunroom. This sunroom was added sometime in the sixties, just before you and your family moved in, and evidently paneled walls and dropped ceiling tiles were the height of savvy interior design at the time. I'm not really all that upset about the paneling. Hey, at least it's real wood, and it's not very dark. I'm just happy the rest of the house isn't this way. But when we first saw this house, the first features in the sunroom that just absolutely took my breath away were the Roman shades.

Wow. Just wow.

Perhaps you have forgotten exactly when you installed those shades. Let me be of service. They are stamped with an inspection sticker dated July of 1974. 1974, Mrs. Dorothy. I wasn't even born in 1974, and I'm pretty certain that by 1974 the orange/olive green/cream color combination had been around long enough to look like it might, just might, be on the way out of style. Let me assure you, it's not hip over 30 years later. What makes this whole scene all the more delightful is the presence of the two matching club chairs.

While the Roman shades themselves are enough to make the average person's eyes bleed, rest assured that they are not the only decorating missteps taken in this home. I have outlined only a few of the horrendous atrocities committed in the name of tacky design, and I will linger only on one more: the upstairs half bathroom.

The one-piece faux tile wall insert (what in the heck is that, anyway?) makes me want to run away screaming. It's bad enough that, along with the crappy stick-on linoleum flooring, it completes a bland white-with-blue-flowers color scheme that is straight out of the eighties. (Bravo for making a more recent update. Bravo.) But did you really need to add the fake wood and fake brass accessories? And did you really need to hang them at such weird heights in such close proximity to one another? Why is the toothbrush holder way over in the corner at eye level? A person can't even use the hand towel ring because any hand towel of normal length would become soaked in the running water of the sink. That's just poor planning, in my opinion.

Oh, and tell whoever installed the pedestal sink that you want your money back. It wobbles and leaks. I am afraid one strong push would send it careening out of the window. It would land right in the middle of the poison ivy patch, and then we'd never get it out.

I'll stop. I'm sorry if I have bothered you too much. You're right, I should be more thankful. I am thankful. My husband and I own a home. We own a home that we can afford, and we are able to raise our children in a safe, friendly neighborhood. Never mind that, at some point, you painted the window sashes in the upstairs bedrooms blue and hot pink with what we can only assume was lead-based paint. Said paint in now chipping off, leading us to fear our children are being exposed to hazardous materials. Besides such dangers as lead exposure, we feel safe in our happy home, and we are proud to call it ours.

But really, Mrs. Dorothy. Really.

Christine, Present Homeowner


seussgirl said...

Huh, if we hadn't met our previous owners, I'd think it was Mrs. Dorothy! Only our owners used wallpaper overly-liberally (yes, I made up that word because "liberally" is not enough), to cover up their mistakes. Like not priming the drywall before wallpapering. And covering cracks in the plaster with it. Oh, and let us not fail to mention the TEAL tile in the bathroom - wall, floor, and shower walls. Along with the pink and teal striped wallpaper over the rest of it - INCLUDING THE CEILING! OVER THE SHOWER! Oh, that was fun to watch as it steamed off a little more with each successive hot shower. Oh, did I forget to mention that there were no fans in the bathrooms?
Too bad I don't have pictures of the "before" in the master bedroom, what with its paisley print wallpaper - including the entire bathroom (yes, that ceiling, too!). Oh, but I did keep some of the MATCHING fabric that they used for curtains, pillows, and the bedspread that they so generously left for our trash (ahem, "use.")
I'm glad you're more dedicated to your renovations than we are. Sounds like you've made more headway in a year than we have in 6. :)

Cheryl Washburn said...

As someone who almost bought a 60 year old house only to discover during inspection that there were huge plumbing and electrical problems, I am thankful you are dealing with that seems like mainly cosmetic problems. I do understand your frustration with decorating choices, as we still wondering why the previous owners of our house took down the mantle and never replaced it leaving a huge wall of off-centered, uninterrupted brick. I will say the six-foot tall poison ivy tree is a little terrifying and makes me wonder if they ever went outside. I do slightly envy your very cute older home, as we could not find one here that did not need tons and tons of work before we could move in it.

tara said...

I just have to say that this is an incredible post. One of my favorites. Well done.

Susan Graham said...

If you are every feeling down and out e-mail me sometime. I would be happy to share about our first home! It to was a lovely cape cod. I could say many things about that house. We could talk about how your feet stuck to the floor in the kitchen, when it was clean, how the original stove (from 1940) billowed smoke when you turned it on, how we had to take off the doors to the new fridge we purchased when we wanted to put it in the kitchen, how we would blow a fuse if I ran the TV, Fridge, and toaster at once that put out half of the lights in the house or how it took us 9 months to remodle the kitchen (it was that bad). But I believe my favorite was how no matter how hard I scrubbed or with what, there was always mildew in our one and only bathroom.

I promise that one day, when you sell it, you will miss its charm! :)

Executive Momma said...

I am a new blogger and first time commenter. I just love your blog. Your family is so goregous! Great Post! I was laughing the whole time. I am excited to be an official blogger and not a lurker anymore! :)

MELISSA said...

LOL this post made me laugh so hard because I could almost write the exact same letter verbatim about our house with a few minor changes and it would be scarily accurate. The previous owners of our 100+ yr old house also loved green and before this moment I never knew anyone else in the world had a green roof like we do! I hate it!!! The worst part is, our house is not white...oh is mint green, with a green roof. Yeah. We have big dreams for this house, and none of them involve a green exterior in any capacity. I won't even get started on the interior. All I can say is I feel your pain on so many levels. :)