This summer I plan to tile the terrace floor and put some faux brick ceramic tiles on the terrace’s exterior walls. I also plan to convert one of the outbuildings on the property into a sort of summer kitchen, complete with an outdoor grill, oven, and fireplace. If I have enough time and money, I may begin to remodel my small brick barn and convert it into a workshop/storage space.
Working on houses runs in my family. For example, my father has built four houses in his life and has completed countless renovations projects as well. I helped him on three of the houses, which was a wonderful experience. It’s worth noting that my father is a chef by training, and I am still amazed by how he learned the ins-and-outs of construction and home repair in his spare time next to his full-time job.
I inherited some of my father’s skill in construction, but nowhere near the same level. This means my renovation efforts often take twice as long as they should and involve some humorous errors and omissions that often force me to backtrack, deconstruct the error, and start all over again. Needless to say, I leave potentially dangerous tasks like electrical wiring and plumbing to the professionals; otherwise, I try to do as much as I can myself. Though I have immensely enjoyed working on my house, I remember to keep it all in perspective and not obsess about it.
I say this because home construction and renovation has evolved into somewhat of a fetish in our contemporary world. The countless television programs focusing on house design, construction, house-flipping, and renovation attest to this. There is nothing inherently wrong with building and fixing up homes, but I suspect our current obsession with all things real estate has much to do with our spiritual emptiness and the rampant materialism of our societies. At best, building or fixing up a home provides some meaning in life– at least for a little while.
My father was ahead of the curve in terms of building and renovating. He built and sold homes as side projects in addition to his full-time job long before home construction became a hip and popular thing to do on television. To be sure, my father was motivated by profit when he built and sold houses, but it never developed into an obsession, and he never lost sight of the bigger picture. Although house building provided him with some meaning, he did not allow it to supersede higher meaning.
I keep this in my mind while I work on my own house during the summer. I avoid the “keeping up the Joneses” trap and only complete projects I can pay for out-of-pocket, which means my house still has plenty of bare light bulbs hanging on wires, unfinished trim, and under-furnished spaces. But I would rather complete the renovations as money allows than go into debt in exchange for some instant gratification.
And I suppose that is the best thing about my old house here in Hungary. Unlike the vast majority of homeowners in the West, I was able to buy my home with cash. Avoiding the mortgage trap was a lifelong ambition of mine, and after more than a decade of living in rented apartments, I am glad I have been able to achieve this goal. Having no mortgage means I possess the house rather than having the house possess me. And I will not allow it to completely possess me in any way, shape, or form, even in the midst of an enormous bathroom overhaul.
This old house has given me some breathing room. It has allowed me to loosen the chains of material necessity a little, which in turn has allowed me to focus more time and energy on more important things. There is no way I would sacrifice that for the sake of granite kitchen countertops I cannot, at the present time, afford. No way at all.