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Notes of Appreciation From Readers to Loved Ones

Three thoughtful readers give credit to those who helped them turn a house into a home

A Father's Know-How

To my father:

As you know, our family was never much for sentiment. We were never ones to talk about feelings, console after failures, or even celebrate accomplishments. In fact, the silent, stoic man who worked late but still found time to build the house we grew up in wasn't Dad or Papa or even Father. He was the Man with the Hammer, always crafting, always passing through on his way to fix something else. Only now am I beginning to understand the value in that.

Before: Neighborhood Eyesore

Photo by Courtesy of Lani Chisnell

After a long search, and without a lot of money, I bought my little house out of desperation. I was unhappy with my choice, but you were the one who took out the graph paper and began to draw. After a long search, and without a lot of money, I bought my little house out of desperation. I was unhappy with my choice, but you were the one who took out the graph paper and began to draw.

After: Cottage Feel, Embraced

Photo by Courtesy of Lani Chisnell

You showed me what my house could be, and I started to imagine too. A cozy porch to catch the summer nights, maybe a fireplace to warm the winter ones. You assured me it was all possible, all within reach.

Shown: The remodeled kitchen is more friendly than formal.

Before: Encroaching Kitchen

Photo by Courtesy of Lani Chisnell

It's a good thing I didn't know how much I didn't know. I figured I had learned how to do all this stuff through osmosis, but I really didn't have a clue. The first time I had to use the miter saw, I thought, Good grief, how do I work this thing?! But you always casually assumed I could, and in the end, you were right.

Shown: The long, strange kitchen that took up most of the bungalow's first floor.

After: Inviting Entryway Staircase

Photo by Courtesy of Lani Chisnell

Over the next six years, we slowly turned the house into a home—crawling around in the pinch of an attic hoping not to go crashing through to the floor below; laughing the day the indoor waterfall came through the ceiling after the water-department guy turned on the main with the upstairs pipes open; discovering that beneath the asbestos siding and aluminum windows slept a handsome Craftsman bungalow.

Shown: A new and improved staircase opens up the bungalow's entryway.

Before: Closed-Off Staircase

Photo by Courtesy of Lani Chisnell

The days were long, we worked hard and ate a lot of Home Depot hot dogs. But we came to read each other well—ready with the next tool or simply standing back and appreciating a good day's work. And I came to appreciate the silent communication that exists only between family. The wordless language that tells you that you share more than you know.

Shown: The cramped entryway did little to invite guests into the pre-remodel space.

After: Expanded Bath

Photo by Courtesy of Lani Chisnell

The cancer, which you beat soundly, slowed you down, and I have had to carry on largely by myself. I persevered, and the house, which was once a neighborhood eyesore, is now dubbed Pea Cottage and sports a historic plaque awarded by the city.

Shown: A bigger bath required expanding into a small third bedroom.

Before: Tiny, Awkward Bath

Photo by Courtesy of Lani Chisnell

This letter is just to say thank you. Thank you for all your resourcefulness, for your guidance, and for giving me a home. You will never be just "good ol' Dad," but that's okay. You are the Man with the Hammer. A fixer. A doer. And I am your daughter.

Lani

Lani Chisnell

Ypsilanti, Michigan

Shown: The pre-remodel bath left a lot to be desired.

Daughter-Run Kitchen Redo

Photo by Courtesy of Alys and Clarissa Westmeyer

Dearest Clarissa,

I'd never had my very own kitchen. Not really. And when we moved to this house four years ago, this one was also "good enough." The flooring wasn't anything I would have picked, but it wasn't atrocious. It was nailed down, and you know how your dad is: If it isn't really broken, don't fix it.

Before: Merely Functional

Photo by Courtesy of Alys and Clarissa Westmeyer

But the table from the former owners took up too much space, and I wanted one that fit. I was dumbfounded when you said you would help me find one if I gave you permission to redo my kitchen. I looked at it only as a functional place, not what it could be. I had to think about it. I'm happy I took a leap of faith.

After: Illuminated, Maneuverable Workspace

Photo by Courtesy of Alys and Clarissa Westmeyer

Now I have a new yellow kitchen that shines in the morning sun! It is a pocketful of pictures and wishes come true. Natural light from the windows and new French door illuminates my workspace, and the hurricane lamp from my very first home brings back many fond memories. I missed the hutch from the house I raised you in, and you had the idea to create the illusion of one with the windowed cabinet and the crown molding. With every detail, you had me in mind.

Before: Fear of White Cabinets

Photo by Courtesy of Alys and Clarissa Westmeyer

It was with great difficulty that I allowed the project to cover the old wood of my kitchen with paint. You kept showing me magazines, and I never knew what you were up to. "How do you like this, Mom?" You kept picking out white cupboards, and that was one of the hardest things for me. I grew up with furniture my great-grandmother had given my mother, so I was always stripping the paint off. You discovered that I would like a country-style kitchen.

I have the most beautiful breakfast-bar top, made from a northeast Ohio hard maple, hand-sanded and hand-coated, with the bark still on the edges. Anytime you walk by, you reach over and you just have to touch it. I can see little wood sprites jumping right out of it. I sit beside it from a new perch and enjoy a space far beyond the reality that previously just "made do."

After: New Breakfast Nook

Photo by Courtesy of Alys and Clarissa Westmeyer

One of the gifts was seeing you make my kitchen in front of my eyes. I had the unique opportunity to watch your skills and your marvelous I-can-do-this attitude. Your self-assured confidence is one of your sterling traits.

I am so pleased with the results that now surround me every day, and your dad loves it too. Despite his vocalized disgruntlement of "Too much disruption!" you completed the project within one week! He has realized it is also his space, and he's thrilled with it. The first time he walked in, he said, "I think we have a Daffodil Room." It is a most amazing place...but it really glows when you visit us. Clarissa, you are a true treasure.

Love,

Mom

Alys Westmeyer

Cleveland, Ohio

Spa-Like Bathroom Retreat

Photo by Courtesy of John and Katie Mittleider

Dear John,

When I close my eyes, I see those two kids who had only each other and the very 1980s house they never dreamed they would stay in. Now, nearly 12 years later, I can't imagine being anywhere else. Though we never did leave this place, it's been a journey, one seen in every layer of paint and change of floor covering, and I couldn't have taken it without you.

During: Expertise at Work

Photo by Courtesy of John and Katie Mittleider

You have taught me so much about how to build things and make them come to life. When we can't find what I want, you make it from scratch. You take a sheet of plywood and create beautiful cabinetry. You slice up a slab of granite and lay a perfect tile floor.

After: Luxurious Shower

Photo by Courtesy of John and Katie Mittleider

After years of preparation, our dreaded bathroom, with its wall-to-wall carpet, powder-pink laminate counters, and never-could-quite-get-it-clean shower has been transformed into a rejuvenating spa-like retreat. When I look at it, I can't believe how far we have come.

During: Taking Shape

Photo by Courtesy of John and Katie Mittleider

I am astonished at how you seem to know, and know how to do, everything. From the technical equipment hidden in the walls, like the electrical and framing and HVAC, to the beautiful finishing touches, like our floors, counters, and wainscoting. And you know how it all works together. You don't just think about the here and now, either, but what could happen down the road; the hidden panels to access the plumbing in the tub should anything go wrong is just one example of that. Truly, your attention to detail is amazing.

After: Precision and Patience

Photo by Courtesy of John and Katie Mittleider

Some people hunt and fish and hike, others go to movies and plays and concerts. We remodel our house. That is who we are, who we have grown to become. And through it all, with love, you have taught me so much—so much about building, creating, and finishing, and even more about planning and patience and, most importantly, how those things apply to life. That is what makes you an amazing husband and father.

After: Masterpiece from Raw Materials

Photo by Courtesy of John and Katie Mittleider

You have provided us with a beautiful home and a wonderful life that has surpassed anything I could have imagined. And you have built this life, as you have with every project we have ever taken on, with your bare hands. You have created a masterpiece from a few pieces of raw material. I could never have walked this journey without you, my best friend. For all that you've done, for all you do now, and for all to come, thank you.

Love,

Katie

Katie Mittleider

Boise, Idaho