Bay Reflections

Vol. 8, No. 39
Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2000
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A True Confession
30 Years of Home Improvement
By Connie Darago

At the Daragos, this time of year triggers an irresistible itch to remodel.

I used to be the one to take pen in hand and create the dream drawings for remodeling a room or keeping up the homestead. Then I'd work up the courage to hand them off to hubby and journeyman carpenter George, who'd glance quickly, call most of them wishful thinking and remind me of my champagne taste and beer budget. We've been playing those parts a long time now.

The "old part of the house," as we call it, was built from 1971 to 1973 as funds were available. That 25-by-60 foot rancher was a recycled house.

When we bought our nine-acre utopia near the Chesapeake Bay in 1969, money was tight. We both worked full time for about $3 an hour, but those George Washingtons were hard to stretch beyond rent, car payments and food - even though our 1969 Chevelle cost less then $3,000. So when it came to house building, economy was essential.

Luckily George had entered the Joint Carpenters Apprenticeship; he would be doing the work himself. Still, we knew it would take time to achieve the American dream of our own home.

Scanning the Washington Post one Sunday, we noticed an ad. Buy Navy surplus homes for a fraction of construction material costs. Shipped via truck to your site.

To see those Navy surplus homes, we traveled to Virginia. A few months later, the duplex house was delivered via midnight-blue sleeper cab tractor trailer, which crept down the narrow gravel road and up the drive, carrying our house in pieces.

We were young, green and eager, and we made some poor choices:. A crawl space offered little room for storage and meant small tanks for water and, therefore, more expensive; Electric heat, economical until bills jumped from $30 to $300 a month.

But we made good choices, too. We loved wood, so we splurged to add beveled redwood siding from California and dark Mediterranean sand-blasted paneling for the living room and hallway.

Mostly our plans were thorough, for we couldn't afford mistakes. Bedroom walls sported a mixture of paneling, paint and stippling. Oak and pine flooring with old-fashioned hand-cut nails gave the rooms a cozy, warm feeling.

The dining room we did in then-popular avocado and gold colonial-print paneling with matching painted chair rail. The theme continued, carried above and between kitchen cabinets.

Every house - even one that you build yourself - needs constant attention. Less than three years after moving in, we were drafting plans for new windows and a fireplace to help with those horrific electric bills. With the birth of our third child and only girl, a new room required decoration. Then things settled down for about five years.

Until 1983, when a doozie of a list emerged. A graduate carpenter with four houses under his belt, George took over the drawing. By the time we broke ground in July, we were attaching a two-story 28-foot by 40-foot structure to our ranch - making better choices this time.

Two baths were first, though five of us had managed with one for 10 years. For the living floor, the design was open space. The great room would have a fireplace, lots of windows - and open into the old dining room.

Open stairs would lead to a small basement complete with steel cabinets for storage, a wood-burning furnace (goodbye electric bill), laundry room, two-car garage and a separate utility room for the biggest water tanks we could find.

This huge project moved so slowly that by the time it was complete, we had only two children at home and one of them ready to graduate. Why did we need three bathrooms?

A couple of years after the completion of the "addition," as we called it, the old part was showing signs of age. One by one rooms were stripped, paneling discarded and fresh light colors applied. No more avocado, thank you. Even the crown-jewel paneling was covered with drywall, beige paint and beautiful oak trim.

By the time it was done, the children had all taken flight.

Time marches on. After 28 years of building, remodeling and maintenance, George cringes at the sound of the words "You know, I'd like to ..."

I haven't given up, though.

I've drawn plans that include a new super-colossal bathroom, enclosing the stairs to the basement and new cabinet doors and fronts for the kitchen.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly