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Jan 2005 / from the source :: email this story to a friend

The Hard Life of a Rehabber
By Kathy Sprehe

I was in love...or drunk...or maybe both. I'm not sure how I ended up rehabbing a house in North City, but somehow, here I am, and really, I don't know how. The first time I visited the neighborhood, I turned to Nathan (my then boyfriend, now husband) and laughed...nervously. There's no way I'm living up here. First off, where can I get my morning café latte, and secondly, that drive by shooting yesterday upset me just a little.

Since then, many a year ago, I've traded in my lattes for a tool belt. I think it was his plan all along. I can see him now, thought bubbles floating up with images of me carting plaster to the dumpster, bucketful by bucketful, and I think he liked the idea, so he bought me a tool belt. It was me who decided it would best be used for snacks — the left pocket was perfect for brownies, while the right one couldn't have possibly been designed for anything more than cookies.

Kathy Sprehe walks down the stairs of her rehab in search of a latte So rehabbing. Yeah, so I like um, like to put together my flat-packed furniture from Ikea, so this should be more fun because there's more to, like, um, put together, right? Not even close. The fun ended about three hours into our first night of work when I realized that after three hours of work, we had just paved the way for six hours of more work. That's the depressing thing about rehab — takes you an hour to take down a wall, takes three to put one back in its place. And by the way, those three hours won't start until you've done a year's worth of demolition, had the rough-ins for plumbing, HVAC, and electric run, spent every last dime of savings (ha, savings, that's funny), and are so high from stripping woodwork that it doesn't really matter.

In the meantime, my latte's gone (permanently, I fear), and I've somehow managed to take up fire-blocking, learn the distance our floor joists span, and know how to use a nail gun, t-square and miter saw to frame a wall. Isn't it fun? Isn't it? I can still see my father-in-law's head drifting back and forth after he heard the news. "It's so much work," he said, hands now on his face, "so much work." I wish he'd have told us to run for the hills, buy a house in the burbs, and never look back, or had at least compared rehabbing to spending an eternity in hell, because maybe then I would have listened. Lot of work, eh? I like a good challenge, and besides, I spent countless nights in college working on sculptures, drawings, and paintings, so how's a rehab different?

Million-dollar question. It's a lot different. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I hope it stays this way because right now giving birth looks like my birthday in Hawaii in comparison. I may be joking, but future rehabbers, take the warning seriously...your life as you know it is over. You know that fancy car you were saving up for? Gone. Remember those friends you hung out with last weekend, over dinner and a bottle of Pinot? Gone, gone, gone. Friends, wine, and all. Romantic getaway? Only if that romantic getaway involves a heat gun with "I love you's" carved in the same wall you were planning on later tearing down.

It's somewhat of a joke in the rehab community, but within it lies the truth. Your life for the next few years will revolve around the house. You will eat, sleep, breathe, and bathe rehab. Your shower floor might have been white at one point, but after a night's work tearing out plaster and lathe, you'll have guessed differently. Perhaps you've caught me at the worst possible time, considering it's been two plus years since we started, and we're still living in the apartment next door, eating macaroni and cheese off paper plates, but I'm tired. Really tired. The idea of rehabbing is wonderful, and I support it fully. The process of rehabbing yourself is horrible, and I support someone other than me doing it fully.

Nathan Sprehe, plaster dust releaser I love what rehab stands for, I just don't want to do it anymore. Or maybe I want to do it, but I want it to take shorter than the rest of my adult life to finish. Both Nathan and I believe in urban living, and in the famous words of Ghandi, "you must be the change you wish to see in the world," but change doesn't happen overnight, and that's certainly the case for rehab. Everything you expect to happen doesn't, and everything you hoped wouldn't happen, will. Think it'll take you six months? Take that number, multiply by two, multiply that by three, and add five. That's how long it'll take you. And money? Who needs it anyway? The bank owns you now.

Kathy Sprehe hopes to move into 1411 Hebert by June. You can track her progress on her blog at

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