I was cruising Craigslist one day thinking about the thick 1950s knotty pine paneling that a friend of mine ripped out of a flip several years back. I gasped when she told me she threw it away. I thought there might some other renovator out there who had the wherewithal to keep theirs out of the landfill. That’s when I found the Savvy Salvager in Avondale Estates. She was working with a builder who was about to tear down some mid century ranch houses and put up newer ones, connecting people like me with the resources we wanted to rescue/salvage. There was knotty pine AND there were hard wood floors. I had been thinking of installing bamboo floors in the new house to get a look similar to hardwoods without the cost. There is also the fast growth rate of bamboo, making it a quickly renewable resource. Re-use trumps quickly renewable resources though and there’s the lasting beauty of wood. If we ripped it out ourselves, actual vintage hardwood was also the least expensive option. We made an appointment and went down to see the house.
I was definitely willing to do the work to get the knotty pine, so Russ and I talked about the floors. The purchase price for access to the materials was attractive, but the success of our outcome was an unknown, so it was a risk. The closing on the house had become uncertain as well, so there was risk on top of risk. We do a lot of things, but we had never demoed something on this scale, or for re-use. Taking it out carefully so it is both pretty and functional was the newbie challenge.
I thought the floors would be a “Russ” job. I said that I would support him however I could, but that I realized it had to be his decision because he’d be doing the work. Russ took the leap of faith, but the job turned out to be bigger than both of us.
Working in Avondale Estates and with the Savvy Salvager was the fun part. I loved her job and would still like to find someone on my side of town to work with in the same way that she does in her area. There is a small neighborhood radio station “AM 1690 Voice of the Arts”. We bought a battery-operated radio because the power is always turned off in a demo house. We listened to 1690 exclusively and really got into our sense of place. It’s the only station I know that periodically plays a bird call (or a whale call). Travel is one of the great joys in life, and sometimes the best trips are not geographically distant.
Avondale Estates is also the home of Waffle House. Our favorite restaurant in town wasn’t Waffle House though. It was not a franchise, Palookaville, home of the world’s best Corn Dogs and adult only milkshakes. Before my first visit I didn’t even like the idea of a corn dog and I couldn’t imagine a milkshake with alcohol, but we knew we’d eat there often and having a reason to be nearby certainly didn’t dissuade us in our decision to move forward. It turned out to be the only place we ate, our exclusive after demo respite. They are famous for the dogs, but the Cobb Salad with Pine Street Market bacon was pretty sweet. The sandwiches are good too and there’s a thrift store on the other side of the parking lot that had some of the best potential I’ve found to replace some of my lost treasures, or to find replacement home goods that remind me of things lost and the people they once belonged to.
I had more trouble with the paneling than I expected. I had to call Russ in when I didn’t have the strength. It was the survival factor. Anyone can sling a sledge hard enough to break something, but it takes superior controlled strength to disassemble with a carpenter’s crowbar. Most of the paneling came out well, but a few pieces broke. I took the picture below when I came to the place where the bathroom medicine cabinet had been up against the paneling. Have you ever noticed the disposal slit for the old fashioned razors? Well here’s what happens.
When I finished the paneling, I became Russ’ helper. I started taking out nails. They were cut nails, big sturdy nails that look a lot like a horseshoe nail. I hammered them backwards and a few would fall out, but I had to grab most and pull with the claw or pliers. One person told me they used a saws all and left the heads in the boards, but I have the slow cooked mindset of someone who will put thousands of hours in a textile project. Sometimes I think I have a finer sensibility and sometimes I think I should value my time more like other people.
My job expanded. Russ, Avondale Estates, the project, the opportunity to thrift in a different direction on the way, my center of gravity was there. I’m not really sure how much help I was. My skill set and my physical strength were growing, but not nearly fast enough and it wasn’t cost free. I was working at the edge of my capacity, both physically and emotionally. There is no air conditioner in a house without power, no fan either, just stale abandoned house smell…at best. In the original scenario Russ was coming over alone after work most days, but it turned out that I went over while he was at work and we were there together after. It was my choice to expand my role, but the work was hard enough that I still felt like a failure. I did more and felt worse about it. Before it was all over, it morphed into Karen does whatever she feels like she can handle and Russ does all the other stuff. To the outsider it may have looked like I was in charge, but really what happened is that Russ let me do the parts I thought I could handle and then he made sure it all worked.
Our uncertainty about, and our commitment to the project intensified with every drop of sweat, every thick heavy cut nail. We still weren’t sure we would get the house we planned to put these boards in, or how many we needed if we did. The seller shut down access after due diligence. We expected a quick closing, so we hadn’t measured and assessed things the way we would have if we had known we were going to try to make decisions ahead of access. So, with all the unknowns and a need to be working toward something, we took another leap of faith and bit on the floors in a second demo house. The price was higher per square foot on this one though. The wood wasn’t quite as nice either and the demo date was more likely to be an issue. Our Savvy Salvager had been clear at the beginning that demo would not be held up if we didn’t finish, so the stress was on. The weather was warmer for this house and we couldn’t open the key door and windows that would have allowed for the best breeze. Russ and I each experienced a death in the family over this time period and moving forward was an act of unfocused determination, a half minded, single minded one foot in front of the other kind of march.