A summary of our first home projects

This is a prequel to the longer post about our last and final remodel.

Look, our house wasn’t that bad. Friends and family would come to visit and more or less say the same things:

“Your place has such nice energy!”

“Everything feels so calm…”

“There are good vibes in this house.”

This, of course, was true. When our kids were fed and happy and we had nothing else on our minds, there was indeed a nice vibe in our 1500 square feet of 1951’s finest pock-marked walls and squeaky floors. But at six in the morning when we tried to sneak past the kids’ rooms without waking them up; when the outlet by the dining table just stopped working; when you could hear the mice in the walls at night… we were reminded that the house was old. Well-loved and lived-in, for sure, but damn old.

I met our house for the first time late in 2015. We were deep in our housing hunt at this point, having already made offers on three other places, narrowly missing a $1.3 million offer by just $5,000. My grandpa Meredith was getting sick and we knew the end was near. It just happened to also be our house-hunting time, and for a few months we considered buying his house near Acalanes High School from my family.

On October 18, 2015, I went with my friend Eric to see two houses in Lafayette and visit my grandpa at his outpatient clinic. The first house we saw was on Upper Happy Valley, a very well-to-do street in a well-to-do neighborhood. I didn’t like it. It was at the top of our budget and the road it was on was too narrow and the cars drove by too fast. I couldn’t imagine teaching my daughter to ride her bike there. I shook my head as we left. I was not going to live there.

Then we went to this house at the end of a cul de sac in unincorporated Saranap. The curb appeal was nothing to scream about. The inside was not staged… at all. The owner’s stuff was everywhere. I’d learn later that she was actually there, at the open house, which is really unusual. I saw piles of her stuff in the garage. The deck at the rear of the house was in bad shape. But the yard was HUGE. There were oak and bay trees everywhere. And I liked the people I saw. They were normal and seemed happy. I talked to a few and learned they were neighbors, just checking out the house.

Here are a few pictures from that day.

I was smitten. This is what I wrote on Redfin to my wife about the house.

I could see the potential and something about the neighborhood spoke to me. I knew I’d be happy living on a court and being able to enjoy its safety and security. I could definitely see my daughter learning to ride a bike right in front of my house. And as it turned out, I witnessed both of my daughters and the two boys next door learn to ride bikes, scooters, roller blades, and skateboards in the six years since we moved here. “Court life” is the single thing I’ve loved most about living at this house.

My daughter entering the court on her scooter.

Over the years we made a lot of improvements. We added fake grass to the front yard. And then some hardscaping. This was a big DIY project, in large part with my father-in-law. I wore out a Collins pick axe doing this thing. I remember succumbing to my wife’s suggestion that we hire some local kids to dig up the yard (you need to go down 6-8 inches to accommodate the fine and rough gravel under the grass). I did, and they sucked. It took three of them all day to dig up a quarter of the yard. I did the rest myself the following day. Then my father-in-law helped me roll it out and seam it. Voila!

Then we got the house painted “Bachelor Blue” to protect the siding and get rid of the weird off-yellow color the house was when we bought it. The purplish blueish color popped nicely against the white trim. I’m pretty sure the trim was Kelly Moore “Swiss Mocha.”

We also replaced the ratty old deck, opting for some top-of-the-line Fiberon planks rather than redwood. They clean up well and look great, and the deck should easily outlive us. The house really shined.

After that, I took on a huge DIY backyard hardscaping project. I really wanted a sitting area and a decomposed granite path to our cottage. With the new deck in place, it made sense to finish the job and complete the backyard.

It looks great, but I’m telling you, this was a fuck-ton of shoveling. Something like ten cubic-yards of gravel and decomposed granite. It may not sound like much, but try doing it yourself. It’ll wear out your wheelbarrow. My forearms looked like Popeye’s by the end of this job.

Then we remodeled the kitchen. It was a drab, old galley kitchen with some weird red tiling on the floor and odd blue tiling on the counter. Here’s the before pic.

Then, somewhat abruptly, we went for it. We found a local kitchen company and ordered a quartz slab. They removed the old countertop and put in some new boards, measured the sink, and cut a hole for it right in our driveway. I still remember this old guy with a cigarette hanging from his mouth making those cuts. He did a beautiful job.

Then we used Thumbtack to find someone to do the tiling job. He ripped out the old tile, smoothed over the wall to bury all the old adhesive, and then… bounced. He never came back. We purchased the tile from the clearance shed at Heath in Sausalito and I wasn’t about to go and find another contractor to do it.

So I did it. I tiled and grouted this here kitchen, and it was good. The irregularities you can see where the faucet is hail from the uneven wall surface. He didn’t mud it right and I didn’t fix it. So the tiles didn’t lie perfectly flat. I was still proud of this job.

Oh, then we decided to paint the cabinets. This took forever. We sanded, we primed, and we used two coats of special cabinet paint. Front and back. This took about three weeks because we only worked in the evenings after the kids were down. It must have been grueling, but when I look back on it now, it sounds kinda fun.

And finally, we added another counter and cabinet system, courtesy of IKEA, to the bare wall by the garage door. We purchased everything and hired a guy on Craigslist to put it all together. He did a really nice job. There was no way I was going to figure all this out.

At long last… our dream kitchen!


There were many more projects, come to think of it, but I don’t have pictures of all of them. We redid two bathrooms, we added new Marvin windows throughout the house, added on to the treehouse, knocked down a chimney, replaced a fence, and I placed some nice tongue and groove planks under the eave that wrapped around our house.

It was 1500 square feet, and we used all of it. These were good times.

And then they got even better.

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