Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Stunning Power of Elbow Grease

So, I buy a house that is not only in Oak Cliff (which has a reputation for ghettos, gangs, and crime that was legitimate 10 years ago and is still too true in other parts of OC) and that also needs a LOT of work. No way around it, my house was an ugly mess in a pretty ugly neighborhood. You know how my parent's reacted? They got up early the very next day, put the lawn gear in the van, and worked on the yard with me for 8 hours spending the whole time complimenting the potential of my house and neighborhood. I am so lucky!!!
As you can see, the yard had gone wild for a number of years. Large saplings 1 to 5" in diameter were growing in the fence and next to the house and everywhere a lawnmower can't go. Bushes grew across sidewalks and clogged parts of the yard. I chose to make the yard the first priority to send a message to the neighborhood that things are changing and to hopefully attract more people to buy and fix up other homes on my block. There's a lot of gentrification going on nearby, but it hasn't quite reached my street. The three of us worked ALL DAY . Between the saplings, wild bushes and vines we pulled off the house we had a brush pile the size of a small sedan by the time we were done. Meanwhile little old hispanic women kept coming out of houses and pretending to check the mail and staring down the street at us, I discovered the invigorating power of taking things down with an electric saw, and my parents discovered the awesomeness that is the wandering Paleteros (hispanic men with small ice cream carts that cruise the area ringing their bells and selling ice cold Paletas. They are the best part of living in a majority hispanic neighborhood in the summer.)The same corner, 8 hours later. Go Team!
(we set the camera in the car window to get a group shot)

My first floor tenant told me later that she got a call from her cousin saying "what's going on at your apartment? I see a bunch of white people in your yard and they're doing things to the house. Is everything ok?!" Apparently the sight of us was very out of the ordinary.

I'd suggest that anyone wanting to improve the look of their house start first with cleaning up the yard. Cut down bushes that aren't needed and do some quality pruning. Don't be afraid to take out large branches! As you can see, it makes a huge difference.

my second entrance, Before


The next day we conquered the upstairs apartment, which had been abandoned by the current tenants, leaving a lot of stuff behind.

Living room on that first day
looking into the small bedroom/office in the corner and the hallway on the far right

Small bedroom/office
on that first day

Look at the wall colours! The nasty dark blue curtains!!! 6 trash bags full of junk and a twin bed later, we had it cleared out. The tenant downstairs still had a few months left on her lease that I was required to respect, so over the next three months I lived at my parents house half an hour away, worked 60 hrs a week at my job, and put in another 30+ hours a week working on the upstairs apartment.

Here's some after photos of the same area from the pics above, but after a LOT of elbow grease and paint.
The same corner of the living room, looking into the small bedroom/office

The Living room entrance
after a lot of paint, refinishing the floor by hand, and a new (vintage) door

Up next on the blog: a series of dramatic before and after photos and a photo recap of some projects past

Up next in the house: Ripping out kitchen cabinets/countertop to put in a washer and dryer. By the way there's no washer and dryer hookups. Do you know a cheap electrician and plumber? And I think we'll need shelving. Basically, after the photo recap, watch Tracy and Marco make a complete kitchen reinvention happen with only muscle, imagination, a few power tools and $300 budget. Did I mention the washer and dryer will be delivered in two days and my kitchen is tiny? HA! Should be fun! (i'm getting excited...)


  1. You're putting a washer and dryer AND a kitchen in that tiny tiny kitchen? I'd love to see your ideas for that. The house still has so much potential!

  2. Thanks for the compliment about the potential of the house! You know more than most how crappy it was in the beginning and still is in many ways.

    Basically, the washer and dryer are going on wither side of the sink where there are currently cabinets and a counter top, the sink will eventually be rebuilt as a freestanding looking thing in the center, and the things that would have been in those cabinets that I'm taking out are going on shelves around the kitchen. In the last few days we built shelves out of lumber all over the place. They look pretty cool actually. They'll look better when it's all painted. I think the washer and dryer are being dropped off tomorrow afternoon or Sunday so I have a lot more destruction to do in the morning to make space. Yea!! Pics will be posted soon. Probably Monday.

    Thanks for reading my blog!!

  3. Cool. Yay pictures!

    This time of year makes me want a house (to try to find plants that I won't kill or sit out on a patio or lounge in a hammock), but instead I will live vicariously through yours. :)

  4. Can't wait to see what's coming next! I love this last post- the yard has been completely reinvigorated! AWESOME! I'm so glad you started a blog- this is WONDERFUL! :) Keep up the great work!

  5. By the way, I'm so glad you included a link to the term "gentrification" bc I had no idea what that meant before reading this post! haha I learned something new today ^_^ Thanks Tracy!

  6. Another question since you're the Home Improvement Guru- I picked out an awesome earthy sage-green at Lowe's like you suggested- thanks! (Valspar really does have a better selection) I want to know how much it would cost to do crown moulding at the top of the wall where it meets the ceiling? Any experiences with crown moulding? It's a small 10'6" x 11'6" bedroom. Do I just walk into Lowe's and say "I picked out a style for these dimensions and they cut it for me? About how much does it cost? Do I just glue it up there? HELP! I don't know what I'm doing and I'm afraid to walk into Lowe's completely clueless :(

  7. Walk into Lowes and go to the first smaller aisle next to the lumber that has lots of long thin pieces pointed toward the ceiling. Look closely and you'll notice all the diff designs and widths. There are wooden mouldings made to stain or paint and cheaper more flexible white ones made of who knows what. Choose whatever you like the look and price of. Some are labeled ceiling or floor. Ignore that. That's for people who aren't creative. Buy what you like. They are sold by the entire length that's there, sometimes it 6 or 8 feet of board that seems to stretch above you into infinity! Get one of the special carts to lay it all down on, consult your measurements to make sure you have enough, then find a guy in the lumber section and ask him sweetly but confidently to cut them for you. It should be free. If there's a sign on the cutting machine that says out of order still ask. sometimes they put that sign out so they don't have to work. you need the corners cut at 45 degree angles so they can meet in the corners and look nice. If they can't cut it at a 45 degree angle then get them the chop it a couple inches little longer than you need (so it's still smaller and can fit in your car). Then go to the screw area and get wood screws that are pretty thin and long enough to go through some part of the moulding and into the wall half an inch. You'll probably buy 1" screws. Buy enough to put one every 3 feet or so. Then call me. My mom has the coolest hand sawing tool that helps you cut things at exact angles. I'll bring it and my drill over and we'll get it done. :)