Six months ago I moved in with my partner, D, who lives in a basement apartment of a house that was built in the 1920's. I don't mind old houses, in fact, I prefer them. There is something about living in a place that has seen the varying range of human emotion before.
Old houses have flavor.
But then there is this house. The original owner built the house himself, and this man, from what I have heard, was not the most sane. There are two wells in the backyard, though neither of them are currently functioning, and are covered. I find this fact more interesting than obnoxious, though the same can't be said for my apartment.
The house was not built with a basement. Once, after a spat with his wife (or so the story goes), the man decided he needed his own space, so he dug out the basement, and made his own apartment. This was probably early 40's.
Throughout the years, some things have been updated. There is, of course, running water and electricity, however the water pipes are backwards (the cold pipe being hot, and vice-versa), and all of the electrical sockets are on the ceiling. These are things that I can deal with, and have, with minor complaints, since I moved in.
The things that I am having a hard time with are the walls, and the ceilings. Nothing in the apartment is sheet-rocked. From the kitchen, to the bedroom, to the living room, everything is made out of concrete cinder blocks, and 2X4's. In some areas, the blocks have been covered with plaster-like boards that were wall-papered with a horrid dark red velvet-like fabric. In other areas, like the bathroom, there is a plastic laminate like covering. Then, like the kitchen, there is no cover at all.
The ceiling is very low, only a couple inches above 6'0" D's head. There are old white interlocking tiles that are stapled, (yes, stapled), to the wooden beams that cover the copper piping. There are various holes in the ceiling where tiles were torn out to fix pipe problems, and never replaced. There are a few lights in the apartment, an uncovered bulb in the kitchen, tiny recessed lights in the tile for the living room, and no ceiling lights in the bedroom.
To add to my frustration, the shower (there is no tub) is sitting on exposed 2X4's in the bathroom, and 2 of the 3 fiberglass sides are fully exposed as well. The kitchen sink looks as though it is beginning to rust out of the bottom, and while water flows, the pipe that is behind the trap appears to be packed with something that has the consistency, and smell, of rusty sod. How that happened is a mystery to me. Needless to say, we share a kitchen with the ones upstairs, and our food often disappears.
The overall effect of the entire place is a tiny, dirty, dark apartment, that in my opinion isn't worth the rent money.
Why do we stay? The current owner of the house is D's mother; she works for the state, and is one that may either be put on furlough, or laid off, as a result of the economy, and D's job isn't particuraly secure either. So for the time being, this dark, dirty, little, place is where I stay.
It's been hard for me, these past few months, in this place. I was raised in upper middle class, and by D's standards, I was spoiled, never coming close to going without in any way, while he spent the first half of his life in poverty, and the rest in lower middle-class. My childhood bedroom, and home, was bright, and full of sunshine. And though I haven't lived in my childhood home for a good 4 years, no place that I have lived in since has been as dark and depressing as this apartment.
The first couple of months, D and I talked about renovating some. D's mother told us that we could do any kind of updating/remodeling, in return for a cheaper rent. We tossed around the idea of getting sheetrock put up, but neither of us wanted to spend that much money on a place that we didn't own. Gradually, we stopped talking about renovating, and gradually my moods became consistantly worse.
Last month, I reached the end of my patience for the dark little place. I broke down crying in the car, because I didn't want to go inside. All my frustration had boiled over, and, yes, I am a little ashamed to admit, I had a tantrum. I didn't feel as though I could take the apartment as it was, any longer.
This led to a discussion between D and I about why this environment depressed me so much, and how my happiness seemed to depend on the materialistic world around me. He made his point, and I made mine. I couldn't take the lack of light, above all, and everything else just exaberated my frustration of the apartment. D was right, of course, I was putting an exaggerrated emphasis on my material surroundings. But I couldn't, or perhaps, wouldn't, change how I felt.
So we started putting away a little money here and there, and ended up with enough this past weekend to begin at the very minimum, redecorating.
Last Saturday, we pulled the boards off of the concrete blocks in the living room. We discovered an unpleasent surprise in the fact that a cinder block in the first layer from the floor had disintigrated. Not knowing how to fix it, we just worked around the offending hole. It's now hidden behind a couch.
So we spent the entire past weekend painting cement blocks. I wanted to go for an urban/ultra-modern art studio-ish feel, so the bricks are white, and a bookcase that had been built in one of the walls, as well as the trim are now black. I decided that designing a room is much more fun than the actual work that goes into fitting the room to the design. Painting was painfully slow, because I wanted all of the blocks covered, not just a crappy coat or two. Of course, the finished, (or partially finished, in this case, as we haven't changed the floor or ceiling,) product does give me a warm happy feeling of satisfaction that I put this together.
It actually turned out really well, not only opening up the room, because of the light walls, but creating the contrasting look we were going for. We bought our first painting for the wall, an abstract cherry blossom tree, and a mini waterfall, that should lend an Asiatic feel to the whole room. Add a few black modern-looking shelves, and some black and white candles, and I think the room will be perfect. At least the walls will. The floor we plan on doing next month, and the ceiling the month after that.
Maybe in a year I will be living in a beautiful apartment that I put sweat and tears into.
At the very least, it gives me something to do, besides sit around and whine about how ugly the place is.
Oh, and the original owner/builder ended up in a mental institution, and his wife fell down the stairs, broke her hip, and died in the basement.
Old houses have flavor.