An Amelie - Calamity update

(Because she resisted getting pretty SO HARD)

I should have known, because I grew up in the home of an architect (my father) and unofficial but passionate interior designer (my mother), that renovating the trailer was going to take longer and cost more than we were expecting. But, man, she nearly broke me!

Here's a list of everything that we did:

  • Ripped out all of the old interior (we kept trying to keep and reuse things but in the end found we needed to take almost everything out to get to the rotten wood and down to the floor). In the end, the only thing we kept of the interior was the counter under the windows. This was harder than it sounds, because whomever once replaced the paneling used 'liquid nails' (a kind of super glue for construction). It was the bane of my existence for many weeks, so if you ever want to really, truly permanently stick something to something else, get your hands on liquid nails.
  • Replaced some of the frame that had rotted over the years and reinforced under a couple of windows that were mysteriously missing entire pieces of framing.
the flower closet end of the trailer, with all of the old paneling ripped out.

the flower closet end of the trailer, with all of the old paneling ripped out.

  • Took out the windows and cleaned the metal frames.
  • Built a new interior wall for the flower closet/refigerator. I'm using a large air-conditioner and this gizmo I found online called the coolbot, which plugs into the AC and turns it into a refrigeration unit. Cool! (sorry)
  • Took off the old j-rail (drip rail), which was badly crunched in several places
  • Stripped the old paint and lots and lots and lots of caulking.
  • Repainted the exterior. Three times. I really wanted a matte finish. I just don't like shiny paint and I'd seen another tiny-shop-in-a-tailer that's a gorgeous matte navy blue. That shop is in Australia, however, where the weather is doubtless kinder to paint and trailers alike than it is here. The paint streaked every time it rained, no matter what I did, even after I added a clear, mostly matte-finish acrylic sealant. It was beyond maddening!


  • Replaced the wiring. This was supposed to be a relatively easy job, which Tod, being very handy and doing quite a lot of electrical work for his job, reckoned he could handle. But we did need a heavy duty power cable and decided on a breaker box in the end, even though I'll never really run anything terribly heavy-duty in there (except for the air-conditioner in the flower closet). Better safe than sorry, I thought. "HAH!" thought Calamity. So I hired a pro electrician, recommended by someone reputable and he charged an arm and a leg to do what amounted to half an hour's worth of work. A couple of days later, Tod managed to put a screwdriver almost all the way through his left hand (he's left handed), meaning of course, among other things, that he couldn't finish the interior rewiring. So I hired another guy to come and put in most of that.. and while he was doing that he discovered that the first guy had evidently "wired the neutral wire to one of the main busbar feeds in the panel". Apparently, this is Not Good and would have resulted in some impromptu pyrotechnics. Thank goodness electrician #2 saw that before we plugged anything in! And may electrician #1 (who never responded to a request for some compensation or even acknowledgement that he had royally screwed up) be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels for all eternity. And then we discovered that electrician #2 had wired something back to front. But eventually, after having to dismantle and reassemble a wall, twice, we got the wiring finished. Plugging it in and turning on the lights for the first time was a very sweet moment.
  • I paid someone to come and put the paneling in. While Tod could probably have managed it, it was a question of time and practice - there are a lot of tricky curves around the ceiling (very pretty ones), so I thought a pro would get it done faster. As it turned out, he had trouble with said curves (no two of which are the same). He also managed to put staples through the skin of the trailer in several places, which, given my hours and hours of care with the paint and sealing and filling holes and crunched spots, was really disheartening. But, now we had walls and wiring!
The new paneling going in. Note our sophisticated security system at this point.

The new paneling going in. Note our sophisticated security system at this point.

  • Replaced the j-rail. It was freezing out when we did this - literally. My sweet friend Claudia volunteered to come and help for the two days it took to get this done and we both tottered at the top of a couple of rickety ladders, wrestling with the rail, which is both unyielding and somehow floppy and if it flops in the wrong direction it can be ruined. And fitting it around the curves on a trailer is very tricky - definitely something one gets better at with practice. Luckily there's YouTube, which helped a lot but still, it was unbelievably frustrating, I think we dropped about 100 bolts as we fumbled them in gloves and did I mention that it was COLD?
  • Recaulked the entire trailer. The roof, around the j-rail, around the windows, in every conceivable spot that might leak.. and you know what? It still leaked. I think this might have been the most frustrating aspect to this project - no matter what I did, I couldn't figure out why the water was getting in. In the end, I bought a huge tent to go over it until the weather improves enough that I can look into it again. And that turned out to be a blessing because in bad weather I have another six feet of workspace on one side.
  • We installed the copper sink that I'd found on craigslist, which is one of my favourite things in the trailer - the patina is so pretty! We also put in an instant water heater, which Tod installed under one of the seats. He then plumbed the sink to drain into a water barrel, which will save the water and since I use no toxins in my work, it can be used to water the garden at the shop.
  • Put up the gorgeous lights I got from Restoration Hardware.
  • We built a new counter across from the old one, which needed to be shifted back a few inches when I discovered that the desktop we got from Ikea* with the lovely curve on one side was too narrow. Gah!
  • Tod rebuilt the seats for me. They have storage in them, which is perfect in such a small space.

*I very much wanted to use reclaimed wood for this project but it proved to be an intimate lesson in economics. Reclaimed wood counters were more than three times the cost of an Ikea countertop. I looked everywhere. And I really wanted those reclaimed counters. I just couldn't afford it - I've financed all of this myself and even cutting corners like that it's been much more expensive than I estimated. So I had to make some concessions to reality. I run the business day to day as greenly as I can (I compost, recycle, don't use any chemicals and don't use floral foam or buy new plastics), and reused as much of the original trailer as I could in the remodel.

  • I'm in the process of making new seat covers and tufted seat backs
  • I filled all of the gaps between the new paneling with heavy duty drywall patch - which took many hours. Because the old walls are so uneven and the framing underneath so sparse, the interior of the trailer is almost more sculpture than paneling in some points. But I wanted to get the lines as clean and spare as I could and I got close to the picture I had in my head
  • Painted all of the interior a very pale grey that's almost white - to keep it light and airy in the small space
  • Stained the counters a dark chocolate (just my preference)
  • Hung an old and beat up closet door from my house (which makes it very nearly 100 years old) on a barn door rail, to close off the flower closet
  • Installed radiant floor heating in the main area
  • Installed dark bamboo flooring (just last night) - it's still not quite finished but it's close and it looks great!
  • Hung shelves for vase and container storage
The shop, with super-sweet shop dog Huck, ready for business this Christmas.

The shop, with super-sweet shop dog Huck, ready for business this Christmas.

So now she's almost finished and the pain (literal and figurative, we both bled and cried and sweated over this thing) is fading somewhat. There are just a few details left to complete and the shop has been open since mid-December. It's a wonderful place to go to work and I love walking up to it when all the flowers and plants are arranged outside. She's a beauty now, although it took a fight! And yes, I renamed her. She so fiercely resisted getting pretty  - and with the accident to Tod's hand and all of the mishaps along the way, Calamity Jane seems like a more apt name for her now.

Susanna LuckComment