I'm a lot like the house I fixed up.

When my husband and I bought a new (old) house, people thought we were crazy. But I had a vision. Never mind that the kitchen had ugly gray paneling on the walls, yellow-flecked Formica® countertops, blue plaid wallpaper, and poorly arranged appliances and countertops.

It didn't matter that the living room was papered in a busy, rust- and gold-colored print with birds and carriages, and had worn, gold sculptured carpet covering the hardwood floors. The shape of the rooms and the transom windows and 10-foot doors were hard to see in all that clutter, but I knew they were there.

In my mind, I could see the end result—the mix of textures, the colors of the décor, the way I'd emphasize the architectural features, and the way the rooms would flow together. I knew it would be perfect.

Partway through the process, though, I became less sure. Much less. We had a whole house to redo. Although the lines were good, every surface needed something. Peeling up the shag carpet, we discovered a spongy residue that had to be scraped off by hand. Removing wallpaper revealed cracks we didn't expect. The cabinets weren't a standard depth, meaning the sink and countertop we'd purchased didn't fit without some inspired retrofitting. The filthy cast iron bathtub had to be smashed into pieces to be carried through the bathroom door. The electricians ran into one problem after another as they rewired, hung new lights, wired new outlets. We had to remove a lowered ceiling, haul off trash, wash and scrub and paint—and my hands, elbows and shoulders ached.

I developed tendonitis, and my doctor said I shouldn't paint. But I discovered that if I shook out my hands every little bit, I could manage 20 minutes at a time before the pain became excruciating. It was one thing after another after another, and I started to believe that the process would never end.

Glances into the Future

Walking through the debris covering the floor from the demolition and seeing the cabinet frames without the doors, cut apart for rebuilding, I was deeply discouraged. It was so much harder than I expected, and it took so much time. All my family and friends were helping—my husband worked on something every night when he got home from work, my friends brought bottles of wine and wallpaper scrapers—but I felt the weight of it all.

I didn't know what to do most of the time, and without the help of my dad, I never would have made it through. He came and patiently, creatively, thoroughly rebuilt the kitchen for me, one step at a time. If something didn't fit, we re-cut it. If something broke, we made a new one. Each task brought forward another problem, and each time, as I was ready to cry, my dad stepped back, thought for a minute, and presented a solution. He's an artist, and his father had been a cabinet-maker, so he knew how to build things. Sometimes our first attempt didn't work, so we'd have to try again.

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