The Green Goddess &ndash Changing the world one shopper at a time

Currently the divorce rate is almost 50 percent and a good chunk of those partnerships fall victim to the home-remodeling monster. My marriage, like the flooring from my once-out-of-date kitchen has become rubble in a landfill somewhere. Ah, yes, I remember the fights we had in front of contractors, the hurling of tile samples, and the no-shows to architects’ meetings. My house was beautifully completed to my specs just in time to sign the divorce papers.

But don’t let my experience scare you; there are relationships that do survive the dreaded remodel, and I am happy to report that I have tracked down the two couples whose partnerships didn’t perish and found out how the hell they did it.

Rick Frederick and Chris Sauter’s home sits in a quiet family neighborhood in the Sullivan Park area just east of downtown. When deciding to purchase a home together they agreed that location was important but they would remain flexible because they understood that finding the perfect combination of price and amenities would be difficult.

“It took a year to wrap our minds around buying a home. During that time we talked a lot about what we needed. A large kitchen, guest bedroom, and home office were important, but above all historic character and proximity to downtown was key,” recalls Frederick. “We also felt it was necessary to stay within a reasonable budget, as we didn’t want to change our lifestyles dramatically.”

Thank God for practicality because getting over your heads in debt trying to  keep up with the dumb-ass Jones will surely wreck a marriage. Armed with a realistic budget, Chris and Rick were prepared for anything and they knew “to expect buyers’ remorse and realize that there is always a what-if lingering somewhere.”

“You make the choices you need to make at the time you make them, so there is little point in indulging regret,” according to the happy couple. To help minimize regrets they made sure to spend the contingency period wisely. In addition to the structural inspections, they visited the house at every time of the day and night to check the natural light, breezes, neighbors, and noise and traffic levels.

Luckily the house did not have a lot of major problems, but they wanted to open up some of the walls, new floors needed to be installed, and the house had to be painted inside and out. Splitsville, right?

Wrong. Rick and Chris remained a team, kept it simple, and expected everything to take longer than originally anticipated. Choosing paint colors, flooring, and a floor plan, they relied on instinct, inspiration, and compromise, and stuck to the era of their house. Selecting paints, they drew inspiration from a favorite shirt and a cedar tree. To find the right color combinations, they cut up paint chips and played with different schemes, stuck their favorites to the fridge, and lived with them for a while.

When it came to flooring they decided that the tile in the kitchen was the first to go and they found a “simple and inexpensive replacement” in Vinyl Composition Tile, which is “normally used in schools and hospitals.” Because VCT is easy to cut and comes in a range of colors they chose to customize a design based on a quilt exhibit they saw at the Houston Museum of Fine Art. To keep within the era of their 1920s house they decided that rather than a wall-to-wall application they mimicked the linoleum rugs found in the early part of the 20th century.

As with any older home, once you begin to peel back the layers more problems unfold but Rick and Chris are taking everything in stride and for now “the house functions comfortably.” And looks great I might add.

In a nearby part of town called Government Hill, Nate Cassie and Ethel Shipton live in a one-story cottage on a large lot. They found that living with their house and its problems made it easier to figure out better solutions. The pressing issue when they first bought the house was the clean-up from the previous owner, who had a big affection for bulldogs that apparently didn’t like to go outside much.

“We lived for a year with an old stove with one burner and even cooked Thanksgiving dinner,” says Cassie. (I am totally balling now because that is so Neil Simon.)

When they moved in, they had very little time to transition from their old house into their current home, so prioritizing was important. The time crunch worked in their favor say Nate and Ethel. They were able to agree about most decisions because it was so “fast and furious.” The results were sometimes not what they had planned, but they took it in stride and that’s why they aren’t having to communicate through lawyers today.

After living in the house for a while they updated the kitchen, finished a second bathroom, and installed a water cistern. Everything was done in stages over a five-year period, and upon walking into their home you immediately get the sense that it was a labor of love. One of the things that struck me the most was the high-gloss deep-azure floor in the office, which was accomplished with the help of a friend, some pizza and beer, and layers of oil paint over old linoleum tiles — brilliant.

Another important element is Nate and Ethel’s incredible contemporary-art collection. Nate says that one “shouldn’t be scared about buying or hanging art. Hanging art involves two nail holes to prevent any sliding around and a level.” Also he adds, “look for original stuff by local artists — that reproduction print from the museum blockbuster show could cost you as much to purchase and frame as some original paintings by younger local artists.” Sometimes a local gallery or artist will even hang the work for you.

Another unique element to the home is the rainwater cistern they installed in the back of their house. “The tank we purchased is 500 gallons, which goes quicker then you might expect, but it keeps the plants going through that long, dry summer without much watering from the tap,” says Cassie. Although using collected water might shave some cash off the water bill, don’t expect many credits from SAWS (what a surprise). To take full advantage of their cistern, Nate and Ethel landscaped with drought-tolerant plants in beds and “didn’t get too attached to the stuff that didn’t make it.” From one plant killer to another, keep asking gardening friends who know what the hell they are doing and live and learn, right Nate?

Perhaps my sarcasm is as bad as your foundation, but there is a point to my witticism, and it is this: If you and your partner/spouse/significant other plan ahead, compromise, go slowly, can be sensitive to one another’s needs, and are realistic with expectations and budgets, you will soon find yourselves gazing into each others eyes whilst blissfully sipping coffee in a newly remodeled kitchen.



Favorite Resources used by the adorable couples:
Ready Made
Consumer Reports
Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide Texas Gardening
Thrift City
Salvation Army
Home Depot
Margie’s Antiques
Habitat for Humanity Warehouse
Texas Metal Cisterns out of San Marcos

The Green Goddess’s regular column can be found in the Current the fourth Wednesday of each month.


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