House Love? Not So Much

So, I was reading the Washington Post this morning, and there was an article about this DIY blog, Young House Love. I couldn’t help noticing an eerie similarity.

The house.
The house.
Our house.

See what I mean?

Now, this irritatingly cute young couple (their dog has a blog, OK?) is just crazy about renovating a house that at 48 is “practically old enough to be our parent.” Hmph. But, I have to admit, they do have some good ideas. I especially like what they did with their groovy basement den, and their kitchen. Before and after shots here.

Which all led me to the question: do I love my house? Ours was also a dump when we bought it, and we worked our behinds off renovating it, not to mention put a fair amount of money into that we’ll never see again. (Lucky us, to buy high and sell low!) The answer would have to be, I think, that I like my house, but I don’t love it. However, I pretty much hated it when I moved in, so just liking it is a big improvement.

People think I am crazy to sell the place after all that work, but really, I’ve always known that I could not live here permanently. First of all, it’s a rambler. I hate ramblers. They are very functional, and good for family living but they will always be one step up from a trailer as far as I am concerned. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just me. I don’t want to live in a rectangle.

Secondly, it’s on a half-acre plus lot in suburban cul de sac. It’s not completely out in the boonies, being a planned community with lots of shops, restaurants, etc. (even though you have to drive to get to them). It’s very pretty, and quiet. But I grew up in a 1912 bungalow on a corner lot in a “transitional” neighborhood. A world apart, and unfortunately, the kind of neighborhood that is very rare around here–most of Northern Virginia was built during and after WWII–and that we simply couldn’t afford during the real estate bubble.

Thirdly, the yard is a killer. Maybe if I were in my twenties I would be able to handle half an acre of (often muddy) steep hillside. But though I’m very good shape, I’m finding that the older I get, the less inclined I am to push wheelbarrows up hills, rake and blow tons (literally) of leaves around, and so on. The folks around me have People to do all that (or should I say, gente). But you know, after all those hardship tours with houses full of People, I am just not interested in managing a plantation anymore. I love to garden, but I want to do it myself, not stand there and order People around. Anyway, I’m cheap!

So, we put in one last burst of hard work and hard-earned money, and it did pay off, more or less. New paint job, new roof, lots of scrubbing and touching up. The house was priced to sell, and it sold in under two weeks, which is pretty darn quick in this market. I keep wondering if I am going to get upset about moving out, but no, I’m really not! Maybe it’s all that time in the FS, but really am ready to move on. And looking forward to tackling a much less difficult renovation job next time with all the skills and knowledge I’ve picked up and am carrying away with me (not to mention the business cards of a few contractors and handymen.)

Now that I’ve thoroughly dissed our house, I’m going to move on the parts I like (and am proud of.) I may be just slightly older than my house (hmph!) but that doesn’t mean I can’t blog about it, too. I’d like to create a retrospective journal of the process for my virtual scrapbook, anyway.

Our house when we bought it in 2004.

Here’s a “before” shot of our house. It wasn’t that bad from a distance, but there were serious issues. There was no sidewalk, so every time it rained you had to leapfrog between some flat stones in the yard, and even those often were under an inch of water. The porch was ugly old cracked cement. There an absolutely unbelievable amount of English ivy choking almost every tree on the lot. A series of previous owners had enhanced the yard by tossing beer bottles and cans into the ivy, then trying to kill it with black sheet plastic that ripped to shreds as we pulled it out of the yard. We’ve been told they used to park their motorcycles on the front lawn.

The two white oak trees out front not only made the house dark, but had been badly trimmed and were ugly and unwell. They had to go. The shrubs, with exception of one magnificent rhododendron (below), were what my neighbor called “useless bushes.” You know, those builder-grade boxwoods that old white men attack mercilessly with hedge trimmers once a year. I attacked them with a chainsaw and some Round-Up–much more effective.

The cherry on top was that the house had been painted (badly) with what my husband described as “barf-yellow” paint by a flipper a few years before. I suspect it was from the oops bin at Home Depot.

Awesome rhododendron.

And don’t even get me started on the problem we couldn’t see, which was literally a cave under the front porch and carport created by forty years of groundhogs and failure to put $4 plastic extensions on the gutters to divert water away from the foundation. We had to get mudjackers to pump over five tons of concrete under there to fill it in and stabilize the carport so it wouldn’t break off if we parked on it. On the positive side, the cave crickets in the basement disappeared and we now have the best tornado/bomb shelter in the DC area in our laundry room.

If you are thinking of buying a house, and the foundation looks like this, RUN.

Here’s a few “after” shots, because I am really am proud of what we did with the yard–just don’t ask me to do anything on that scale again!

Re-graded front yard, new sidewalk, new planters, new plants.

We had People regrade the yard, build a sidewalk, and cover the ugly porch with brick pavers. We built the brick terraces on the right ourselves and planted some hollies and azaleas that have done just beautifully.

My favorite part of the yard.

The garden between the sidewalk and the house is entirely plants I got at 75-percent off end-of-season sales at the garden shop. Inkberries, nandina, hostas, coral bells, ferns, and spotted dead nettle plus crocuses and daffodils. It’s pretty awesome, if I do say so myself–and just about exactly the size garden I would like to have in my next house!

Bee and butterfly garden.

The formerly ivy-choked muddy mess at the front of the house is now a wildflower garden with a rock garden going up to the street. More 75-percent off plants, plus a lot of donations from my mom and my neighbor. Not everything likes the heavy clay soil, but the plants that do like it really took off.  We get lots of bees and butterflies, too.

My solution for that weird, gravelly, bone-dry area by the street.

I just finished this last year. Meadow grass, sedum and yucca for a difficult spot. When we first moved in, I had two pallets of river rock delivered for various projects around the yard, from this edging, to holding up the front slope, to using the larger ones for stepping stones. It really was a good investment.

New deck, pachysandra well along the way to covering the back slope.

The original deck had been attached to the  old wood siding, not the actual house, and according to a contractor, was “the kind of deck that you hear about on the news when it collapses and kills some people.” We replaced it with a good, sturdy Trex one. We have gotten so much mileage out of that deck–we cook out on it all the time. The back slope had some pachysandra started on it when we got here, but getting it to cover the whole slope took some serious work, and several large bags of pachysandra that I got from neighbors and from freecycle. It really was a back-breaking job that I would not care to repeat.

The daffodils came out of several big 40-year old clumps of bulbs that I found in the front yard. I divided them up and spread them all over the back slope. They are so pretty in the spring.

I’ve barely begun to cover all the work we did in this yard. It was a labor of love–and occasionally, desperation! I really do look forward to tackling something smaller, flatter (and definitely not below street level) one day, though. There is something deeply and uniquely satisfying about bringing a neglected yard back to life.

Inside shots next time…


  1. Only someone from the South would be worried about living in something almost like a trailer! I have the very same worry!


    • LOL! I hadn’t thought about that, but yeah, I guess I could be subconsciously resisting the ancestral pull of the trailer park!


  2. Found your blog on the round up last week. Am slowly reading my way through it, slowly not because I read slow but because the internet in Malawi is a joke. Love that you don’t want People. I am with you, I have an acre+ yard at this post which means TWO full time gardeners, and I am finally caving in and getting a maid because the tropical dust, dirt, and bugs are winning. Add in the guards and the kid I am homeschooling and I need a day off! There are two many people here ALL the freaking time. Next post someplace with less People.

    I love the comment about the ancestral pull of the trailer park. Right about now a trailer park with no People sounds pretty good!. Or is that just my S. Texas showing?


  3. Ha, you just described our house in Zambia! (Except there was NO internet.) People around all the time. And always with Needs. I wasn’t interested in being anyone’s social worker!

    Couldn’t get used to being called the Madam and the Master either. Maybe it’s because I am from the south too, but that bothered me, big time. Big. Time.

    Some people think living like British colonials is awesome, but I couldn’t get away from it fast enough.


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