The Oakland House Redux
The other day I was talking to my sister-in-law about paint colors. They were thinking about putting their house on the market and living in a sea of red and yellow. It was very exciting and I quickly sent her an unabashed flurry of texts regarding what color for which room—a complete, albeit unsolicited, break down of the individual spaces. Paint was only the beginning.
And it all got me thinking about that time we sold our house in California, how much pride we had in that thing. I don’t know about you, but I stalk my old house on Zillow and Google maps. I like to see how my landscaping is growing, if the neighborhood has changed, and if the new owner made any changes. And then last night, I got an alert that it’s back on the market! Quickly, I clicked the link and was able to see all of our old rooms reimagined for someone else’s life. She did a lovely job, it looked beautiful.
I’ve been meaning to show the Oakland house here for absolute ages. We shared a lot of our process but never came back to present the results. That’s not only embarrassing, but generally a pity. So I’m making the effort to finally put it out there.
Do you have a fresh beverage, a comfy seat? Because this post is about to get hella long.
Let’s start out front. The exterior was stucco painted in peach and mauve. There was a wheelchair elevator off the side of the porch and entirely too much concrete. At the point of the photo below, we had already added the tree to the front planting strip, which required carving into the sidewalk, and due to code requirements, much to my dismay, moved the electrical box to the front of the house.
It took a long time, but when we finally had the house painted, it was like a time machine. We also replaced the window, the front door and house numbers. Up next was landscaping. We were asking way too much of that little tree!
First we had to carve out the concrete between the porch and driveway. Then repair part of the retaining wall. After that, I spent a good time digging out weeds and planning new drought-tolerant landscaping. Aside from beauty, goals were: to hide the electrical box and the neighbor’s garbage cans that they insisted keeping in their front yard (renters, haha); help block the steady flow of trash that so easily found its way down our driveway; be low-maintenance. Admittedly, we weren’t in the safest neighborhood, and you just don’t want to be stuck out there gardening.
Eventually I built this little horizontal fence for privacy and to extend the backyard. It was level, despite what this photo is telling you.
When it was all said and done, I thought it looked amazing! Note: this is the realtor’s pic. You’ll see a bunch of these. I think we were in such a hurry during the last year of living here, I didn’t stop to take many good photos. I’m using mine when I can and supplementing with my realtor’s shots.
Moving up the porch and into the entry. When you first walked up the porch, you were greeted by a metal security door. It was rusty and coated in paint, but necessary, as the original front door was mostly glass. The entry was pretty filthy, with popcorn ceilings and pink carpet.
We did two things immediately upon moving in. Remove the carpet and scrape the popcorn ceilings. Then we deep-cleaned and I whipped up some cheap curtains for privacy. Paint had to wait since we were knee-deep in some pretty heinous reno elsewhere. Which left us with this, and it stayed this way a long time. Not shown, just to the right of that planter, is a floor grate for a defunct heater that we removed. This would require floor patching and some trim to be replaced.
Eventually we painted and replaced the light fixture. I found a perfectly-sized bench via craigslist and just updated its knobs.
Ultimately we recycled that security door and replaced it with a Craftsman replica. That was a liberating day! Our entry became so much more welcoming. The floor was patched and refinished. I became an expert on 1922 baseboards and added hooks to the window trim.
From the entry, turnaround and enter the living room. It was also dirty, smothered in carpet and topped with popcorn. That paneling was covering two original windows that were evidenced from outside. Huh? Why would anyone do that? But it was a nice size, 12×12 I think and had a big window. That fireplace was deceased but I loved that it was there. Can I also point out the ceiling detail? Not bad 1922.
Of course, I could not ignore that paneling knowing there were windows back there. One fateful night I cut an innocent hole to see what was behind it. I soon discovered the wall behind the paneling was in process of deteriorating. It was wet, there were bugs and active wind. All of this was due to a roof leak at the chimney. Yes, the windows were there but stripped of all their trim. Not to mention, painted on the outside.
Here I am going to say kudos to stucco houses. Because of the stucco, we did not have to rebuild an entire wall. If it had been wood, surely we would have had to open it to the outside.
This is called Making Do. (Hello Orange! RIP)
Of course, it was all repaired. Rotten wood was removed and replaced. We tuck-pointed and skim coated the brick flue in case someone (not us) eventually wanted to add a gas fireplace. Our good friend rebuilt the bookcases and mantle and we removed two rows of tile to lower it all down a bit.
How’d we do, better?
Beyond the living room is predictably, the dining room. All the usual culprits here. Carpet, popcorn, defunct furnace grate, dirt. Same big window. Odd closet, but it really wasn’t hurting anyone.
During all of this we welcomed our daughter, Thora, to the world. I am grateful she waited until the house was mostly livable to arrive. But I will say, the kid is a renovation trooper. No baseboard? Mom’ll get to it.
This was not the most challenging room in the house. It was my first time having a real dining room though and although we didn’t have much use for it, it was nice space. We displayed our books here and it’s where the birthday parties happened.
To the right of the dining room is a small hallway that leads to two bedrooms, a bathroom and a couple hall closets. I love the floorplan of this house. Very classic. Both bedrooms are small, typical of the period, neighborhood, style etc.
Here is the front bedroom, which became our daughter’s room.
The hallway. This photo always makes me lol.
The back bedroom, which I’ll loosely call “the master.”
Everything done in those rooms was aesthetic. Serious cleaning. Refinished floors. New window treatments. Paint. We installed Elfa systems in the closets. In the end, they were both sweet little rooms.
One of my favorite things we did was strip and repaint all of the original hardware. Every door hinge, knob and faceplate. If the original was long gone, we replaced it with new black knobs. Low-cost project, moderately tedious but with serious impact.
And in between was the main bathroom. I hated this room. It was ugly, it never looked clean. We waited way too long to renovate here. If I could go back in time, I would do it sooner. It turned out so cute in the end and we hardly got to enjoy it.
It was a complete gut. Everything was replaced except the tub.
This room was all about smart choices. I spent money on the floor tile, a marble hex, but outfitted the tub in affordable subway. The toilet was an awesome dual-flush from Toto, but the sink was off-the-shelf Home Depot. At this point, we were renovating to sell. If I were doing it for us, I would’ve splurged more on the light fixture and mirror. I desperately wanted a recessed cabinet.
How are you holding up? Is this post long enough? Should it be longer? Yes? Let’s check out the kitchen!
So so bad. At first we thought we would be able to clean this up and live with it as-is while we dealt with more pressing issues. If it’s not clear, the house was literally disintegrating, being reclaimed by mother nature, when we bought it. Sadly, in the light of day we realized the kitchen was beyond. The inside of those cabinets was raw wood and covered in mouse poop. The floor tile was popping up and everything was thick with grease. You can see the sink was low to accommodate a wheelchair. There was nothing precious here and it didn’t work.
The original kitchen layout was the tight u-shape you see above. On the right was a wall with a pocket door that led to a laundry room. Did I mention this house has a basement? That’s the equivalent of finding gold in the Bay Area and we knew there was plenty of room to move the laundry down there. Yes, the wall had to go to open up the kitchen. Bonus, the floor was rotten under the old washing machine. Of course it was.
In our fervor, we landed here. And again, lived this way for like, two years? George Foreman was our best friend. So. Many. Paninis.
Want to know a good motivator? A good re-arranger of priorities? Pregnancy. Nothing like a good pregnancy to kick your butt in gear. I won’t list everything we did here, it’s extensive. We worked with a builder, a plumber and an electrician to do everything to code. We hired out drywall and DIY’d the rest.
We put in an Ikea kitchen with Caesarstone countertops. The floor was VCT, an economical choice with great impact. I still love this. Lighting was from Schoolhouse Electric. I would have liked to put in recess lights but budget wasn’t having it. We never got around to a backsplash and I always intended to add trim to the top of the cabinets. That pantry around the fridge was epic. I would kill for that today!
I built that bench at the end of the cabinet run. One of my proudest moments. Lots of memories were made in that little corner.
And through the door was an interesting, if not rundown feature of our house: the addition. Such an ugly and awkward space. Water leaked in from the exterior wall every time it rained.
Our strategy here was to simply keep it from falling down until we could figure out what to do with it. It was an addition, poorly built on top of an old patio pad, but it added valuable square footage to the house.
This is where I worked, moving my desk around as problems arose. You can see I had to cut out all of that lower drywall because of water intrusion. Ugh, this room was stressful.
Once we knew we were going to sell, we could no longer ignore the need to address this space. Our contractor and realtor came out with suggestions and we embarked on as much reno as we could afford. Rebuilding was out of the question, but we could upgrade it enough to make it more livable.
We found out that there were two roof leaks and had those repaired. The former exterior of the house was skim coated to look like drywall. An extraneous side door was removed, where the bookcase is here. The stairs were rebuilt. In the end, water still came in under the patio slider, certainly because it was level with the outside, and we had to disclose that.
The iron railing was replaced with a knee wall. I found those carpet tiles at a Habitat store. They were commercial quality and probably originally used in an office, but they were perfect here. Our daughter loved this as a playroom. It was a hit at her 4th birthday party!
Those stairs lead to the basement. I remember when we entered the basement during the open house, our eyes lit up, our poker faces were lost and we mouthed silently to each other, OMG. Mike and I both work from home. Finding studio space in these tiny California houses and apartments is rare. Like unicorn rare. And although the basement was smelly, dirty and outfitted as some strange apartment, it was everything. We wanted this house right then and there.
You’d buy this, right?
Compartmentalized into a living room, bedroom and kitchen. Super low ceilings. Dank.
Surely that water heater was earthquake safe. There was a little stove here too that we sent off to the salvage graveyard. That fridge was doused in bleach and brought upstairs for the interim kitchen. And that sink, well, I loved it and had plans.
I don’t know how to describe the basement renovation. Intense? Yes, very intense. Termites, dry rot, some squirrel’s acorn stash, a storage space under the porch soaked in animal urine. And behind those walls, the nearly 100-year old foundation was flaking. There was dust about a foot deep behind all of the walls. We literally shoveled it out.
Once everything was demo’d and hauled away, I mean, Mike is a BEAST, we scraped the walls as best we could and gave them all a new parge coat. Then a vow was made that the foundation walls were never to be covered again. Drywall in basements hides secrets.
The gist of the basement was this: add a laundry room; replace water heater with a tankless; run heat; create an open studio space. And we did all of that. The basement turned out great.
Our carpenter, who is a great friend of my dad’s, built this custom shelving that wrapped the studio room. It fit 7″ and full-sized records perfectly.
The laundry room lead to the garage. My once sad but now refinished sink became a cheery bright spot. Another project I’m proud of. And all of that new plumbing… dreamy.
One thing we didn’t change was a hallway closet and this little bathroom. It wasn’t amazing, but everything worked.
And finally, let’s get some fresh air in the backyard. I won’t bother to share before and during pics, because I actually blogged about the yard a lot! It was my favorite place to be. I did experimental gardening back here. It was an oasis from the noise that is what Oakland is.
There was a lemon and an orange tree. We built those veggie boxes in the corner and I planted asparagus ferns with black mondo grass as babies.
I also built the planter box along the back of the addition. I thought it visually filled the transition from yard to building. And all that lavender was nice for our neighbor’s bees.
That shed! So many times we almost tore it out. Ugly but functional. And I wasn’t about to buy a new one. That grass and irrigation system was brand new when we listed. Another fix I wish we had done sooner.
And there you have it. The finished product of five years of our lives in Oakland. After we sold this house, we rented for one year in sort of a swanky neighborhood (we figured we deserved it) so our daughter could finish preschool. Then we packed our bags and cars and headed out midwest.
What is home to me? It’s life and living. I put my heart into my home and I hope that it shows in the work we did here. This house was a journey and an adventure. Doing this together was bonding for my husband and I. We found out we are a great team and that we both like hard work. Our daughter was born here. Even though she will grow up in Minneapolis, she will always get to say she was born in Oakland. And I think that’s great for her story.
You made it! It’s the end!
Did you like this post? Is there anything mentioned here that you want to hear more about? Please let me know in the comments. Once I became a mom, I became a terrible blogger. But I did actually document everything and it all sits in organized folders on my laptop.
Now that I’ve finally revealed the Oakland house and released myself of this self-imposed mental burden, I can turn my attention to our current home. The Minneapolis house is nothing like the Oakland house in terms of repair. But we have a lot of projects in the queue: bathroom, kitchen, stairwells, and so on.
In the meantime, here are links to some of the projects referenced above that I did blog about. Ever so long ago.
- The rotten wall in the living room here , here and here
- Refinishing that sink in the basement here
- Basement demo and rot here and here
- Parging the foundation walls here
- Kitchen demo here, here, here and here
- Installing VCT floors here
- Building the kitchen bench here
- Tuckpoint a chimney here
- Backyard progress here, here, here, here
- Building raised garden boxes here
- Refinishing the wood floors here