The 2013 Reader Remodel Contest Moxie Awards
From remodeling a bathroom one tile at a time to setting 53 tons of retaining-wall blocks by hand, these readers don't know the meaning of "quit"
Who: Christine and Matt Price
Where: Larchmont, New York
Some people believe that major home-improvement projects should be scheduled for periods when you have the time and energy to tackle them. Not the Prices. They overhauled their apartment's 1980s-style bathroom solely during the hours prohibited by the building's co-op board—after 5 p.m., when the two had knocked off from their full-time jobs.
This meant they had to do it very quietly. And, as a result, very slowly. "We used mini crowbars and chisels to pry the tiles off one by one so that we could catch them before they clattered on the floor," Christine says. "The demo alone took a week." The couple discreetly carried out the debris in 5-gallon buckets and made sure to sneak in sheets of drywall, the new bathtub, and other large supplies when the building's super was off duty.
Five weeks and zero noise complaints later, the effort paid off. "It probably would have taken us only a couple of weeks if we hadn't needed to be so stealthy," Christine says. "Everything is so much cleaner-looking now."
Who: Nancie Wallace
Where: Somerset, Kentucky
To fully appreciate Nancie's unyielding determination, just step inside her front door: At your feet, you'll find the elegant vine-and-leaf border she spent days hand-painting on the new ash floor. Not once, not twice, but three times.
The first go-round took nearly 40 hours of careful brushwork with a gel stain, homemade stencils, and lots of Q-tips to remove stray marks. "I like things that curve and flow," she says, "so I drew the pattern by hand." She hired a contractor to preserve her work with two coats of polyurethane. Unfortunately, a man with a buffer inadvertently erased part of it. "They called my husband first," she recounts. "I was almost in tears."
But Nancie picked herself up—or, rather, plopped herself down—and got back to it. Another 40 hours, another masterpiece. That one survived nearly 18 months before the poly started to flake off for reasons nobody can explain.
At this stage, the average Jane might have safely assumed the project was doomed. That's not moxie. Nancie called in the sanders and insisted on watching as her work was wiped out. Then she bought herself a nice natural-bristle brush and hit the floor once again. "It was a backbreaking job," she says, "but worth the do-over."
Who: Eric Means
Where: Glenview, Illinois
When Eric peeled back the aluminum siding on his home, he discovered more than 40 wasps' nests—as well as a new phobia. For the next six weeks as he re-sided, he lived in a constant state of red alert. "He would do these acrobatic twirls on the ladder in order to dodge the things," says his wife, Carmen. "I swear he was less afraid of falling than he was of getting stung." He began stocking his tool belt with two cans of high-powered pest repellent. "I would occasionally hear a scream, some choice expletives, and the spray," she says. The hives are gone, the new siding is in place, but the sting remains.
Who: Wayne Brown
Where: Salineville, Ohio
Wayne discovered his nemesis, lurking beneath his property, while he was trying to sink a fence post. His wife, Donna, had visions of making the massive rock the centerpiece of an outdoor sitting area. But first it had to be excavated. No matter what they tried, the slab would not budge. "That's when it started to get personal for him," says Donna.
Wayne's eventual triumph did not come without cost. It took a tractor, a posthole digger, and two fingertips to free the behemoth from the soil. The pinkie and ring finger of his right hand were severed between the tractor and the digger. "We had to go to the ER to get them sewn back on," says Donna. "His fingers look a little wacky now, but at least the pieces are where they belong."
More important, so is Wayne's boulder. Dubbed "Dad's rock" by the couple's kids, the beast now serves as a sort of standalone fire ring, thanks to a hole Wayne drilled through its core for a gas line. Bonus: The treasured gathering spot comes with its own scary story.
Who: Jim and Beth Roberts
Where: Hopkinsville, Kentucky
When it came time to redo their home's exterior, the Robertses faced two big challenges: limited funds and limited mobility. Beth, who has battled rheumatoid arthritis for 37 years, couldn't raise her arms above her head. And Jim's two fused vertebrae kept him from lifting anything heavier than 60 pounds.
So the couple invented creative work-arounds. "Anything can be moved with a fulcrum and a big enough lever," says Jim. He built a wood bracket to position pieces of siding, propped up by a long 2×4 that Beth steadied from the ground. To reduce the amount of time things had to be held in place, they drilled holes and started nails beforehand. But their most ingenious feat was transporting a concrete pad 35 feet from the front stairs to the curb by rolling it on fence posts, "just like they did when making the pyramids," says Beth.
Who: Diana Lovejoy
Where: Carlsbad, California
As an amateur triathlete, Diana has always been fit, but for 15 years her body confounded her. She suffered through eight miscarriages and could find no relief from chronic pain and a life-sapping fatigue. Antibiotics, holistic medicine, meditation, hyperbaric-oxygen therapy—nothing worked. So she came up with her own treatment: revamping her front yard. "I just needed something to make myself feel sane," she says. She removed sod, graded dirt, placed stones, and filled empty spaces with a Dr. Seussian selection of succulents. Not the easiest work for someone in constant pain. "It hurt to even bend over and pick up a rock," she says. As the project neared completion, Diana was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and given a treatment that has filled her with new hope. Last September, she gave birth to a baby boy, Kale. "I put as much love and energy as I could into these plants," she says, "and they gave back."
Who: Caroline Hinshaw
Where: Sheridan, Indiana
As a former framing carpenter, Caroline knew what it would take to rebuild her barn. She never dreamed she'd need her nursing skills, too. She went to move her tiller and it jumped into reverse, pinning her against the wall; the tines cut in above her left knee, almost to the bone. A friend rushed over, but she covered the gash. "He said, 'I'm calling 911!' I said, 'Don't you dare!' But I couldn't get up to stop him," she says. She hadn't wanted the fuss of an ambulance ride, but she dressed the wound and waited.
Eight days and three surgeries later, she returned from the hospital, propped her leg up in a golf cart, and zipped over to her unfinished project. Soon she was up on a ladder, working on the wiring. The doctor who performed her skin graft was horrified. Caroline stands by her priorities. "I have a limp," she says. "But I also have a beautiful barn."
Who: Curtis Conkey
Where: Black Forest, Colorado
Not many people look at a closet barely deep enough for a blazer and think, I should turn this into a walk-in lounge complete with washer and dryer. But Curtis didn't hesitate to reconfigure the upstairs bedrooms for some extra storage. The hardest part was what had to happen to tie the waste line into the sewer line. "I had to jackhammer a whole section of the basement floor," Curtis says. Then he and a buddy used concrete-cutting blades on their Skilsaws to carve a trench. "At some point you think it's a little crazy, but I figured, well, I've got this hole in my house, so I might as well keep going." And so he did, at the cost of thousands of dollars. But being able to put clothes straight from the dryer onto their hangers? Now that's priceless.
Who: Chris Bolinger
Where: Petersburg, Illinois
When Chris and his wife, Peggy, saw the 50 stained-glass windows, they knew they had to have the 14-room Queen Anne. "I wanted to fix the years of bad workmanship and neglect," he says. So the couple went to work repairing holes, removing wallpaper 10 layers thick, installing molding and chair rail, and painstakingly restoring the 1890s fireplace in the parlor. Chris dug up the overmantel in pieces from the basement and replaced broken tiles in the hearth with intact originals he plucked from beneath the coal bumpers. To rekindle the long-lost glow, he installed a vent-free fireplace.
And then the family was hit with some major setbacks. The economy crashed, Chris's horse-and-carriage business dried up, and Peggy was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the bills mounted, they lost their beloved home to foreclosure. But Chris says it's by no means a bitter ending. Peggy has since regained her health, and he says restoring the house was more important than owning it. "Not everyone gets to experience the satisfaction of walking away from a project you can be proud of," he says. "We feel lucky that we got to live there for 10 years and make it better for the next owners. We love our new place and have started over. Life is good!"
Who: Heidi Hill
"A bag of clay is eight bucks," says Heidi. "Nobody's probably as crazy as me, but making tiles myself was the cheapest way to do a countertop." So she rolled and cut 1,262 2-inch-square tiles for the flat surfaces and formed 250 edge pieces. Then she kiln-fired them all twice and glazed them three times before installing them. "I try not to even think about how many hours it took," she says. "It's not a project for someone who needs instant gratification."
Who: Charles Wright
Where: Odenville, Alabama
With 22 years of service under his belt, Charles still approaches life's battles like a Marine. "Problem: Water coming off hillside going under the house," he told us. "Solution: Remove hillside!" In its place, he built a massive L-shaped retaining wall. Over 36 days, he single-handedly excavated the site with a rented backhoe, hefted 1,492 GeoStone blocks—53 tons' worth—into place, and backfilled the structure with 362 tons of gravel. Today, the wall stretches 90 feet in one direction and 60 feet in another. At its tallest point, it stands 14 feet high. GeoStone was so impressed, the company posted photos on its website. Says the Vietnam vet: "They called it the Great Wall of Charles."
Who: Richard Alix
Where: Bridgeport, West Virginia
"With a shovel and a wheelbarrow, I moved 22 tons of stone, 7 tons of sand, and 3 tons of dirt to build my patio."
Who: Jim Faughn
Where: Glen Arm, Maryland
"It took three years to remodel my bathroom because I made four or five cuts on each piece to make sure the fit was perfect."
Who: Kelly Freeman
Where: Danville, Illinois
When Kelly lost her husband to lung cancer eight years ago, she also lost her home. "I just kept moving," she says. An understatement: She uprooted herself four times before finding a 45-year-old house that needed new bathrooms, an updated kitchen, landscaping, and oh so much more. "I could see that it was going to be perfect when I got done with it," she says. "It just clicked." She refurbished the bathrooms and bedrooms, then relocated the entire kitchen. After installing wainscoting and flooring, she created light fixtures out of mason jars as a final touch. "Now this house feels like home," she says. "It's the right size, it's well-built, I love it!" Say good-bye to the tape gun.