The money pit

Our money pit

Photo: Duncan Hurd

Have you ever seen “The Money Pit?” The movie starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long about a young couple who buy a house in Connecticut and remodel it, and all the horrors they faced? We were the remake. Our construction crew even took to answering any question I had with “two weeks,” just like in the movie. Whatever I asked about would be done in two weeks…. It took two years.

When Pam and I returned to Florida and bought our house, we knew it needed work. Structurally it was fine. Everything else wasn’t.

The house was originally built in 1988 – not terribly old, even by Florida standards. But the design looked like something from the 60s. It had a vaulted ceiling in the center, with large triangular glass panels at the front and back above the windows and doors.

It was a three bedroom, two and a half bath house. Pretty standard. What we liked about it, though, was that each room was large, providing a lot of extra open space.

We began, innocently, with a bath remodel

The first thing we did, before moving in, was repaint the interior. For our Connecticut house we wanted warm colors, so everything was khaki and burgundy and emerald. Here we wanted something more tropical. We wanted what I called happy colors – yellow and teal and blue and coral.

We also ripped out all the carpet. Mind you, the only rooms with carpeting were the bathrooms and the closets. Why anyone would put carpet in a damp, humid environment was beyond us. Out it went, and all the mold and mildew went with it.

That left us with beautiful plywood flooring in the master bath and closet, which was all the excuse Pam needed. We had to remodel.

One day, one of the crew was walking in the front yard and noticed the ground under him give a little. He jumped up and down and heard a crack, so he started to dig. That led to the discovery of a piece of plywood over the drain field, the broken drain field. The subsequent inspection by an environmental engineer led to a new septic system.

Next was a new roof

Then the insurance company called. We had a cedar shingle roof – popular in Florida at one time, but now considered a fire hazard. We would have to have it flame treated or the insurance would be cancelled. We discovered the cost of treatment was about a third the cost of a new tin roof. The treatment was warrantied for five years, and the metal roof for forty. Since the cedar was nearing the end of its life anyway we got a new roof. Ka-ching!

That first winter was particularly cold by Florida standards, and each night Pam and I froze in our bedroom. The main part of the house is on the second floor, sitting on top of the garage and storage space. The space under the master bedroom was open to the elements, and a quick inspection revealed almost no insulation.

We had opened the ceiling to redo the plumbing in the master bath anyway, so let’s just take the whole thing apart and add proper insulation. While we’re at it, Mr. Homeowner, we really should replace the ceiling underneath with composite material. And the electric and plumbing system under here doesn’t look too good so let’s fix that at the same time. Ka-ching!

Then new windows and siding

Hurricane Andrew changed everything in Florida. Insurance rates have skyrocketed and building code requirements have become increasingly onerous. Our house overlooks the intracoastal and we only had wind protection for the windows on one side of the house. As far as the insurance company was concerned we had no protection at all, and we were paying dearly.

By now you probably sense a rhythm developing, and I don’t want to disappoint. We replaced every door and window in the house with impact resistant, low energy glass. Ka-Ching!

It was about this time that I noticed all the cracking paint on the outside of the house. When windows and doors are being replaced you tend to watch what’s going on. When you watch what’s going on you see other problems nearby. When you see other problems nearby you think of ways to solve those problems. When you think of ways to solve those problems it costs you lot’s of money. Don’t watch what’s going on.

But I digress.

It would have been simple enough to sand the exterior and repaint. But by now we weren’t into simple, we were well into complex and about to go over the deep end.

We decided to add additional insulation over the exterior and overlay that with clapboard siding made of composite material. That’s when we discovered the house wasn’t level.

Calm down. We didn’t raise one end of the house – although there was a lot of joking about doing that. Instead, for once, we took the practical route. A good carpenter is worth their weight in gold. Ka-ching!

Then we painted the exterior aqua. Another happy color!

Since we were on a financial roll and a year into this project, we figured we might as well keep going. Why wait a year or two to begin the next phase? The crew is here and needs work.

How about replacing the decks?

One of the primary reasons the house didn’t sell until we came along – it had been on the market for many, many months – was the condition of the decks. Because the main living area is on the second floor, there are decks at the entrance in the front and across the entire back of the house, overlooking the intracoastal.

When we bought it these were a mess. The paint wasn’t just peeling, it was falling off in chunks. A huge vine had consumed the stairway in the back. The wood was rotting and the clips that held it all together were rusted through in most places. It wasn’t hard to dismantle, and by the time the crew got to the columns all they had to do was push, gently, and they fell over.

We replaced the decks with, you guessed it, composite material. Have you ever priced this stuff? It’s not cheap. And, given the environment, we had to use stainless steel nails on the entire exterior – probably 50,000 of them. The decks alone were the cost of a Mercedes. One of the high end ones.

And a man cave!

Downstairs on the ground level, in addition to the garage, was some storage space. This was fully enclosed and had been turned into a man cave of sorts. There were old cypress planks that were installed diagonally and white washed. There was a built-in TV cabinet that appeared to have been constructed by some fellow with ten thumbs. There was cracked white tile on the floor throughout.

It was hideous. But I had set up shop down there with my desk and computer and was quite content. Pam wasn’t. She and the contractor conspired to remodel that, too. I didn’t have any say in the matter.

So the entire space was demolished and rebuilt. It became the contractor’s man cave. The walls were made of water resistant green board. Decorative Old Chicago brick was installed around a column and along one of the walls. Another wall was made of faux driftwood. A plasterer and a custom painter were brought in to give it that old-world look. Ka-ching!

But it’s gorgeous. It’s the perfect work environment and where I do almost all of my writing. I tell visitors that I have the world’s best office, overlooking the intracoastal in a make believe West Indian dungeon. The crew joked that as soon as it was completed Pam would kick me out and claim it for herself. But she says it’s not for her – it’s too big. Poor me.

Everyone needs a wine cellar, don’t they?

While my office was being built Pam and I were approaching our tenth anniversary. We enjoy the occasional glass of wine, so we headed off to California wine country for a week to check things out. Big mistake.

We were like kids in a candy store. Except this candy store had a bouncer and they checked your ID. After all the construction we had been through, writing checks became habit forming. So buying wine wasn’t a big deal. We came home with 22 cases of the stuff.

That led to the inevitable question, “Where do we but it all?” I noticed a certain gleam in the contractor’s eyes. “Why don’t you let us build you a wine cellar?” says he. “We’ll put it in the space next to the stairs, where that illegal bathroom used to be.” (Long story, best saved for another time.)

And off he went. Buying expensive woods. Ordering granite counter tops. Installing a refrigerator. It, too, was gorgeous. Ka-ching!!!!

And, finally, the kitchen

About this time Pam started to get cranky. She was tired of builders in the house almost every day for the past year and a half. Weeks of Pam trying to calmly talk on the phone with some colleague in a far-off land, while compressors and nail guns were creating a racket just outside her door, had taken their toll. “Enough is enough,” she said.

I, too, wanted it over with. But I wanted it ALL over with. And we still hadn’t done the kitchen. Let’s at this point pause while you silently scream in sympathy with my wife.

As rationally as I could I explained to Pam that everything else in this previously ugly, rotting house had been repaired or replaced. The only thing left to upgrade was the kitchen. Why wait a couple years simply to start over when we could, in a couple months, redo the kitchen and be done with all of it? I think it was out of pure exhaustion that she relented. She didn’t even have the energy to argue.

With that out came the cabinets, the appliances, the walls, and half the ceiling. In went new plumbing, new electric, new walls, a new ceiling, new cabinets, countertops, and appliances. Ka-ching!

Last year, two days before Christmas, the final appliance was delivered and we were done. Granted there still were minor touch-ups to complete, but the heavy lifting was over. We enjoyed Christmas dinner with about a dozen family and friends in our practically rebuilt home.

So why bother?

At this point it would be fair of you to ask what this long tale of woe has to do with slow living. The answer is, everything.

I didn’t know it when we started, but I came to realize that in finding a house in the perfect location in a beautiful town, and then renovating it to reflect our personal and professional tastes, we laid the foundation to live a slow life.

Our home has become a beacon for our family and a gathering place for our friends. It is where love and memories are made. Laughter fills its rooms, and joy is the present it gives us every day.

We don’t rush off to the next new thing or thrilling experience. Instead, we can sit on our deck reading, talking, eating, or simply watching wildlife along the lagoon, for hours.

Our home has brought a sense of peace and calm to our work. Pam, especially, works long hours. Every so often I see her on a break at the end of the dock, or in the yard playing with the dogs. And then she’s back at it for round two, three, or four.

In the end, the amount we spent, all those accumulated ka-chings, matters less than the emotional and spiritual dividends our home pays every day. We may or may not ever get our money back. But we have our lives back.

And from this foundation we are learning how to live slow, love slow, eat slow, work slow, play slow, travel slow, entertain slow … you get it.

I hope you will join Pam and me on this journey. We have made wrong turns and will continue to do so. But each day we discover something new about this slow life.

My goal is to share these stories, and lessons learned, with you. So that you, too, can discover how fulfilling and enjoyable slow living can be. And how easily you can transition into your own slow life.


6 Comments on “The money pit

  1. I can attest, the transformation was remarkable and a bit expensive I’m sure. We’ve spent many days enjoying the view and the wine!

  2. Duncan
    I LOVE IT! Being the other half of one of your employees during the remodel I must say you and Pam are too awesome and the most patient positive people I know. Your home is truly beautiful and trust me as I heard ALL the remodel horrors you went through. You also added some beautiful touches that gave my other half much joy and a few headaches but true talent was shown, thanks to your patience and belief in his abilities. At the end is admiration and love and the best part your friendship! Sincerely, Kathy

  3. Duncan: I can so relate….although on a smaller scale. A leaky faucet was the reason to replace them, and so the ugly sink…which was to be an under-mount and not over-mounted, as it currently was…which required new counter tops. Counters of granite of course…then cabinets looked ugly and outdated ….oh vey! Love my kitchen now…all for the need to fix a drip in the faucet! So fun to hear of your endeavors!

    • I suppose the alternative is to never fix those leaky faucets. Of course then the economy would come to a grinding halt! Thanks for the comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *