Bob and Teresa Jackson started their quest for a vacation home by marking a spot on the map, centered on their home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Then they drew a circle around it, encompassing destinations within a three-hour drive.
“If you buy a vacation home that is too far away from your primary home, you won’t get to enjoy it very often,” Bob Jackson says. “So we started visiting places to find the one we liked best.”
As it turned out, the sweet spot in the circle was Lewes. The Jacksons were captivated by the historic community’s blend of the arts, antiques and nature. They hoped to find a short sale and invest their own sweat equity to create a welcoming get-away for themselves, two tiny dogs and visiting friends and family.
“We wanted light and airy, but not overly beachy, green rather than blue,” Teresa Jackson recalls. “We tried to visualize what a home would look like after we had made it our own.”
In shopping for a short sale, the couple was prepared to take on properties that were not in good condition.
“Because the utilities are often turned off, you get problems like mold,” Bob Jackson says.
They toured half a dozen homes before they found a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at the Villages of Five Points that was clean, dry and in sound shape.
“It was clear the previous owner took very good care of the property,” Teresa Jackson says. “The appliances are like new.”
They also appreciated the location, a pedestrian-friendly community that is a pleasant stroll from shops and restaurants.
Still, there was lots of work to be done to transform a plain vanilla, builder’s-grade unit into the elegant, yet casual, retreat the couple envisioned. “So we were also happy to be about 500 yards away from Home Depot,” Bob Jackson says.
Making a List, Checking it Twice
First, the Jacksons made a list of what needed to be done. Then, they made a second list of tasks they could manage themselves and jobs better left to professionals.
Could Bob Jackson replace the fluorescent light fixture in the kitchen with contemporary track lighting? Absolutely. He also could take on the challenge of removing the baseboards and installing more substantial, upgraded trim work.
The Jacksons started with a DIY task, ripping out the existing wall-to-wall carpet, a chore that requires lots of elbow grease but not much skill. “There was carpet everywhere, even in the bathrooms,” Teresa Jackson recalls.
The exception was the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen. Bob took up the tile and relaid the unbroken pavers in the master bath. “There were more than 50 tiles in the kitchen and I only needed about 12 good ones for the bathroom, which wasn’t hard to do,” he says.
They hired a contractor to install dog-friendly engineered hardwood floors in a hand-scraped hickory finish in the kitchen, bedrooms and gathering area.
As the renovation progressed, they refined their list, deleting some items and adding others. The man-made countertops in the kitchen were in pristine condition. Why not wait a year or so to replace them with stone?
“We also decided to hire someone to do the painting, which we originally planned to do ourselves,” Teresa recalls. “With all the work we were already doing, it made sense.”
A Place of Their Own
To maximize a feeling of spaciousness in the 1,300-square-foot condo, the couple relocated the dining area from the center of the floor to a spot against the wall.
They repurposed a high-back, horseshoe-shaped booth salvaged from an Italian restaurant as a banquette. Bob Jackson made a template for a granite tabletop and had it fabricated at Home Depot. They replaced a utilitarian lighting fixture with a sparkling crystal chandelier, using a swag to move it from the center of the room to the side.
“We bought the chandelier from Overstock and it arrived in pieces,” Teresa Jackson says. “I’m still not certain I put it together the right way, but we love the way it looks.”
The finishing touch is a collection of black-and-white photographs depicting Delaware beach scenes—a gift from a talented photographer friend.
When the Jacksons sit down to enjoy a glass of wine together, the booth reminds them of an intimate spot in a cozy steakhouse.
“It’s our little bit of Ruth’s Chris,” Bob Jackson says.
A DIY Team
He learned basic do-it-yourself skills at a young age. His grandfather, a teacher, spent his summers renovating houses to rent or sell. “As a kid, I spent a lot of time scraping wallpaper,” he recalls.
Teresa Jackson, who owns a hair salon, has always had a flair for making things beautiful and recently has branched into interior design.
She found a slightly dinged chest of drawers at a flea market that she knew was a perfect fit for the vintage Americana theme in the guest bedroom. She enhanced the shabby chic look, painting the top and sides in white chalk paint. She coated the drawers with contrasting pale blue paint left over from the walls.
“Getting a deal on a piece of furniture and remaking it is fun,” she says.
The master bedroom is serene and light, accented with colorful paintings of birds. Painted tin ceiling tiles are mounted on the walls as pieces of rustic art.
In the living room, upholstered seagrass chairs and a sectional sofa provide lots of comfy seating for guests. The sofa is a sleeper to accommodate overflow guests.
The Jacksons found most of the wooden furniture in the condo on craigslist, including the high-end coffee table and end table in the living area they bought for $25 each. Another find was the dramatic, four-poster bed in the master bedroom.
“We even found our flooring contractor on craigslist,” Bob Jackson says.
The entertainment system in the gathering space was inspired by a project Teresa Jackson spied in a magazine. To make it, the Jacksons took a second-hand sideboard, another craigslist buy, and mounted a tall bookcase on either side.
“The bookcases came out of an office and I bought them because they were already wired for lighting,” Bob Jackson says.
He fashioned backs for the bookcases from beadboard and trimmed the entire unit with molding. Visually, the pieces are unified with a coat of spring green paint. Teresa Jackson painted the top of the chest and its hardware with contrasting flat black.
Sweat Equity Pays Off
The first weekend the Jacksons spent in their beach get-away, they slept on air mattresses and lived out of a suitcase. But after only 10 weekends of work, the condo was fully renovated, furnished and accessorized, down to the large mirror in the bedroom Teresa Jackson embellished with tiny seashells.
When you are going at a project hammer and tong, Bob Jackson advises evaluating which tools you should buy and what you should rent. Because he only needed them for a few hours, he rented an air chisel to remove the tile from the kitchen floor and a wet saw to cut tile for the bathroom.
He devoted several weekends to carpentry and millwork, bringing his table saw from home.
“If you don’t already have a saw it’s more cost effective to buy one because you will use it over and over,” he says.
“And when you’re done, you can sell it on craigslist,” Teresa Jackson adds.
Most important, build time for fun into your schedule. The Jacksons looked forward to their DIY weekends knowing they would enjoy a relaxing outing at the end of the day.
“It can’t be all work and no play,” he says. “Agree to put the tools away at a certain time, then go out and have dinner.”
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