travelog 51

Working in the Crackhouse

Three years ago when we were driving by, our friends Blair and Kristin showed us this nice little house. Since about 2 1/2 years the couple lives in it and when we arrive in mid July of this year, we are flabbergasted! The living room, apart from the floor, is habitable and looks really nice. But it has to be guarded with a barricade of chairs against their three roaming dogs. Their own bedroom looks habitable too and so does the bathroom. But otherwise everything else is in an unfinished state (to put it mildly); the carpets ripped out, the wallpaper scratched off, and everywhere are boxes with personal clutter. The porch is crammed with boxes, the second floor is in its original state. That's brilliant!

Somebody has to help these people, that's our first realization!

So we roll up our sleeves and they explain to us in short how to do everything. We get the necessary material and start to plaster the walls on the first floor. Not an easy job if you have never done that before. But soon we can see that we're quick to learn. What was a problem with the first wall, is easy on the second one and we start to really enjoy it.

Thank God it occurs to us in time to ask Kristin and Blair if they didn't want to have additional sockets in their offices and guest bedrooms, and if a phone and data network wouldn't be a great thing to have. You better think about these things before the walls are nicely plastered and painted...

We get the right cables, the sockets, the correct plug connectors and go to work. Here we have to slit the walls with a circular saw to put in the new cables. There we have to chisel holes to fit the sockets. Out of one of these holes thousands of dry acorns flood us. Hard-working squirrels have collected them over the years (after all, the house is about 100 years old) and they must have fallen down through the air spaces in the walls.

In general we're astonished by the American technique of building a house. The entire house is based on a wooden scaffolding on which slender slats have been nailed that were then plastered and painted. Most of the walls can easily be removed and placed somewhere else without affecting the stability. The whole thing doesn't make a very stable impression if you once know what's behind the pretty facade. It's certainly less costly to build and thus a lot cheaper in the production costs.

After a first layer of plaster that has to dry out completely, we can plaster the corners with a special spatula. At the end we have to sand every unevenness. This is laborious and time-consuming work, and what is more, it attacks the lungs. The dust production is considerable and there's nothing better after such a job than a long visit to the shower! But after a couple of days the walls look smoother, whiter and more professional. The slits for the cables are plastered as well and disappear completely. Not a bad performance for hobby-botanists and unimog-freaks!

Our nomadic lifestyle and flexibility to handle different situations without failing to have fun stands us in good stead. During our visit with them, the kitchen is ripped out completely and we have to cook in the unimog or bbq outside. We wash our dishes in the bathroom sink for a while, and in this very bathroom Kristin does magic prepairing excellent meals for us.

Next we put in the cables and fit the sockets before the final plaster. On that occasion we have to visit the attic which is covered with an insulating layer of horrible material. It's only possible to walk on the narrow supporting pillars of the house otherwise you could fall through the ceiling. Every move swirls up powdery dust and we can only work with a mask for protection. We have to drill holes through the cover beam above the walls to get access to the air space between the walls. This turns out to be quite impossible because the drill is too weak. Fortunately we can borrow a professional drill from the craftsmen who lay the floor in the living room and the kitchen, and we drill in no time.

Blair gets himself a network router with which he can have access to 4 computers in the house. I connect all the cables and we're all positively surprised that the network works on all the connections, that the phones ring as planned, and that the current flows as intended.

In a next step we seal the walls, smooth the last unevenness, and are finally ready to paint. Kristin always has a lot of troubles to chose the right color for the next room. Understandable if you see how a color sample on a 2 inch paper looks if you compare it with the color when it covers an entire room. But we're lucky! Kristin is happy with her colors and we like it too. Blairs office is the last room we paint. He chose a "happy" color, gaudy-orange, but in this case it takes us a while to get to like it.

Next we sand the window, door frames, and the mouldings in two rooms with a sanding machine. We seal and paint them in white so that now only the carpet is missing. If everything goes well, the new kitchen will be installed within a couple of weeks, the floors throughout the house will be finished, and the dogs will be living outside without leaving their dirt and hair everywhere, then we're looking forward to our next visit at Kristin and Blair's house!

Don't worry, they will not run out of work because there will be always something to do. For example the garden and Blair's plan to integrate a home theatre with a big-screen tv in the basement (the "dungeon"). We're eager to know when we get the report that the house is successfully finished!

August 2002

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen