The Wall at Casa del Ugh

While house hunting for my current home, I narrowed the field to two contenders.

One of them needed a lot of work. Not only had it been modified for use as a boarding house, the entire thing was being help up by one jackpost sitting on a concrete block in the cellar. But I’ve never been shy of hard work, and with its location and huge yard by city standards, gutting it and starting over – along with shoring up the foundation, of course – would have resulted in a great place.

The other was pretty much move-in ready. It needed the obligatory coat of paint, and one window had to be replaced, but otherwise didn’t seem like it would be much work. And because I’d just spent several years living in a work-in-progress house, where there was always some sort of reno chaos going on somewhere, I was ready for a break, so it’s the one I chose.

I should have known better – both that there’s never anything such as “move-in ready,” and that I’d be able to put up with whatever imperfections I found without ripping them out and fixing them.

It’s what I do.

The house ended up having a lot of problems, some quite major (a leaky roof), some mindbogglingly stupid (a layer of laminate flooring installed over two layers of carpet), and some purely aesthetic (stain done so badly it looked like walls had been slathered in butterscotch pudding). Realizing how much work the place actually needed, I became disheartened. I had bought it specifically to avoid a bunch of renos, after all.

It didn’t take long for my friend, Kerry, to christen the whole mess “Casa del Ugh.”

A couple of months after I’d moved in, Kerry came to visit so she could see the new place and, being the proactive person she is, set about to improve things. She spent her days doing battle against the rose bushes that had been left to run riot throughout the yard, and when I got home from work in the afternoon, we’d tackle some project together.

One of those projects was the living room wall. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of it from when I moved in, but it looked kind of … wonky. Like it was somehow top-heavy. The top 2/3 of the wall had textured wallpaper on it, and the bottom third was painted, with a piece of moulding covering where the two different applications met.

I’ve never been a fan of textured wallpaper, so one evening we decided to strip it off in preparation for painting. Underneath it, we found another layer of textured wallpaper. And underneath that was a third layer of wallpaper – mercifully untextured this time, but I can’t say pink and purple pinstripes was much of an improvement. All this wallpaper was applied over a layer of unfinished barn board. (Is it any wonder the wall seemed top heavy?) So what started out as a simple attempt to peel off some wallpaper turned into hammer-and-prybar type removal to uncover this hot mess.

In the immortal words of Kerry, “Why? Why? Just why???”

My heart sank with the realization that the blobs of adhesive left behind weren’t going away easily. But Kerry was way ahead of me once again. She launched into Improve Things Mode, grabbed some markers, and added this to one of the blobs:

Followed by this:

And then these:

It wasn’t long until I was giggling and scribbling alongside her. Turns out drawing on the walls is very therapeutic.

It was almost two years before I got to “fixing” that wall in my ongoing renovations, and every time I looked at it, I smiled. And I didn’t, in fact, entirely get rid of it. We’d drawn on the shared wall between my place and the neighbours, and it turned out there was zero soundproofing between units. The drywall had been glued to the cinder block wall dividing houses, so instead of trying to tear it down and replace it, I built a soundproofing wall directly over top of it.

And while it’s properly finished now, and the artwork is considerably more professional …

… every time I look at it, I remember the glory that lies underneath.

One of my favourite parts of doing renos is tearing something apart and finding a surprise concealed behind it – a signature, a date, an old newspaper. It’s one of my fondest hopes that one day, after Kerry and I are gone, someone will be doing work on this place and discover our hidden artwork, and they’ll get some unexpected joy out of it.

Most importantly, though, I hope they’ll wonder what was in the two holes that were cut out of the wall and taped over. Because before I buried things for good, I removed the two best drawings of all and framed them for Kerry, so she could also have a tangible reminder of the time we fulfilled every kid’s dream and went to town on the living room wall armed with a couple of markers and our imaginations.

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