The first time I saw my condo, I was in love.
It was completely devoid of the top items on my wish list: Access to outside? Nope. Two bathrooms? Negatory. Open kitchen? ‘Fraid not. But, oh, was it beautiful.
From the beginning, I wanted a place where I could entertain. I wanted the kind of home that people would gravitate towards. In my fantasy, it would be a place where people meet before going out to dinner, and where cocktail parties and game nights take place. My daydream involved a permanently stocked bar and a refrigerator drawer always filled with cheeses and tapenades.
I wanted a place that felt warm, old, and unique. I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, where every apartment building looks the same, and all the granite countertops and living-room balconies in the world weren’t going to convince me to live in a cookie-cutter home here in Washington. My agent called it “charm,” as in, “Yes, Daphne needs her charm."
When I began my search, I quickly came up against a painful reality: Beautiful old buildings are filled with tiny, closed-in rooms. The open floor plan, it turns out, is a contemporary notion. For months, I trudged in and out of open houses, with and without my agent, and I hated them all. I thought of them as lousy boyfriends—many had so much going for them, except what I was after.
Then, true love. I am not sure I even saw all the rooms before I decided to make an offer. It probably happened as soon as I looked across the long living room and saw three arched windows.
There is space to entertain and charm on top of charm. Beat up, honey-colored floors, chipped molding, and oddly shaped closets—I love it all.
It has two medium-sized bedrooms and one bathroom. The sellers added a laundry closet and one of those new washer-dryers that do everything except fold your clothes and put them away. The building is small enough that I now know about half of the residents. I am on the top floor in the corner unit.
But if those other condos were lousy boyfriends, I would come to realize my condo and I were the couple that eloped in Vegas. I still love it, and my heart still flutters when I gaze out those arched windows. But there are flaws I failed to notice when we first met.
I showed up on move-in day with the keys in one hand and a stack of signed forms in the other. I was “home” for the first time, and there was a certain amount of squealing and whooping and rolling around on the floor that went along with that. Eventually, though, I took another look at my kitchen. It was small and dark, and as I opened one of the drawers, the front panel fell off in my hand. It has almost no counter space, and the cabinets are neither evenly cut nor evenly hung.
Visions of renovations danced in my head. It’s been a year. I have furniture (if not pictures on the walls), and all of my mail is coming to the right place. Now, I’m ready for phase two.
They say you can’t change a boyfriend, but you damn-sure can change a kitchen. Here’s my kitchen now, complete with my dog, Ruby. In a few months, this photo should be a relic—a quirky reminder of what happens when charm goes unchecked. New cabinets, new counters, new appliances—and that wall on the right? It’s coming down.
I have talked about this for many months, occasionally even taking timid steps forward—asking friends for contractor referrals, pouring over appliance reviews online, tearing pictures out of magazines, and filling my Tivo with home-improvement shows.
Now I’m serious. I’ve hired the contractor and purchased the cabinets—both sagas that I will expand on later.
After the kitchen is done, it won’t be over. Sometime soon, I’ll tell you about the time I ripped up my entire bathroom floor. I wanted to see the tile underneath, and then I just couldn’t stop myself. So, the bathroom needs work.
I didn’t think of this apartment as a fixer-upper when I bought it. I just took a look at it, and I knew that it was love.
Diary of a Fixer-Upper is a weekly Tuesday column chronicling home renovations in DC. You can read the archives, including former columnist Heather Goss's renovations, here. Check back every Tuesday for more of Daphne's adventures.