Paint Colors (and the Value of Sweat Equity)

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

It was a near perfect day weather-wise in Pittsburgh yesterday.. . I spent the day painting at the Project with the windows open, iPOD kickin’ my favorite tunes, occasionally singing along (which probably made all the neighbors shut their windows 😉 ).  As I was up on the ladder doin’ my thing, my thoughts turned to my neighbors at my current house… They’re students, and able to live in a nice townhome because a father bought the house for his son.  Now I have the son and 2 of his buddies living next door and I occasionally leave the house on a Sunday morning to find used paper cups with remnants of beer strewed upon the lawn after an evening of partying, no doubt.  They’re good kids, and that cup is always gone by the time I return (townhouse fairy, perhaps?), but I can’t help but wonder how much they value their gorgeous kitchen (that the previous owner renovated) or the rooftop deck (which is one of my favorite places in my own house) when they didn’t technically work for it.

Then my thoughts wandered to a conversation I had with my sister.  When I was stressing about all the things I have on my plate and mentioned I was taking on some of the labor (e.g. painting) on the project myself, she asked, “Why?  Why didn’t you just hire someone to do the painting?”  Sure, I could have.  Of course I could have.  But I was driven by a need to contribute.  I needed to put a bit of my own sweat into this place.  Why?  I’m not sure, I just wanted to.  Since my construction skills are limited, painting it was.

When I was finally done for the day, after working into the wee hours of the night, I folded up the tarp, threw that last used paint roller in the trash, and looked around.  What I saw was a bland shell taking on life, a stark room turned into a blue jewel, and the beginnings of a serene retreat.  Then I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment, happiness and satisfaction (and also relief that the paint colors I picked actually worked!).  So I had my answer — I did it for this feeling.  This feeling you get when something is earned, not given.   That is the true value of sweat equity.  And how do you put a price on a feeling?  You just can’t — it’s priceless.


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In the Neighborhood: Morningside

Pittsburgh is a city that exists as a collection of neighborhoods… these neighborhoods are so much a part of Pittsburgh’s charm!  This house happens to be located in one such neighborhood called Morningside.

Map of Pittsburgh Neighborhoods.

Map of Pittsburgh Neighborhoods. Source:

I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Morningside when I found the vacant lot.  Morningside is like the middle child between Highland Park and Lawrenceville.  Highland Park is very much the oldest — authoritative, well-established, sophisticated.  It’s comprised of large, stately homes with well-manicured lawns.  Lawrenceville, on the other hand, is very much the baby  – unconventional, free-spirited, and gets all the attention; it attracts artists and hipsters and has recently experienced a renaissance.  Morningside is, well, a bit invisible between the two.  So, I began exploring – driving the streets, getting a feel for this neighborhood that I’ve come to really, really appreciate.

Morningside sign

A bit of factual info:  Morningside was a farming community in the late1800’s-early 1900s, with few ways to get to it until 1905.  The Chislett street Trolley line was completed in 1905, and allowed people access to Morningside besides from Butler Street.  This spurred residential development.  Morningside gets its name because it extends from the southeast to the northwest and gets sun nearly all day long.  According to Zillow, it is only 0.5 sq miles in area.

A couple of highlights from my self-tour:

View of Allegheny River from corner of Morningside Avenue and Baker Street

View of Allegheny River from corner of Morningside Avenue and Baker Street

Mural located at corner of Chislett Street and Greenwood.  Artist:   Jeff Schreckengost  Funding:  Sprout Fund

Mural located at corner of Chislett Street and Greenwood. Artist: Jeff Schreckengost Funding: Sprout Fund

For me, the major appeal of Morningside is its location — the homes off Butler Street have clear views of the river, it’s an easy and quick drive to major highways and bridges, and a stone’s throw away from the hubs of Lawrenceville, Highland Park, and East Liberty.  Of course, a neighborhood isn’t just its landscape and architecture but also the people who live there.  Morningside is very much a “neighborhood” —  neighbors talk to each other, homeowners are here to stay for a while, and everyone loves “their street”.

Just like people have personalities, I happen to believe that places/neighborhoods with a rich history also have one that they retain throughout the years.  An article on Morningside as published in The Pittsburgh Leader in 1905.  I thought it was wild how it was described:  “Morningside is in a Picturesque Valley” and “this sequestered spot is unknown to ninety-nine out of a hundred Pittsburgers” and “easy direct route to the popular zoo.”  Fast-forward over a century later and one would still describe Morningside the same way 🙂


Resale or sell-out?

I felt like a deflated balloon.  “Have you thought about resale value?” asked my real estate agent.  Well, no, I hadn’t.  I’d thought about lots of other practical things like location, lot size, slope, access to public utilities, and all the different ways I could utilize my small house but had not thought about resale value.  “In Pittsburgh, people want big.  They want at least 3 bedrooms.”

I know this.  Of course I know this because four years ago I was That Girl.  That Girl who was tired of renting and wanted to move up.  And moving up meant a space larger than my 1 bedroom/1 bath tiny apartment.  It meant space where guests didn’t have to walk through my bedroom to use the only bathroom (which was awwwkward!!).  It meant a space where my living room wasn’t also my gym, home office and guest bedroom.  I needed a 3 bedroom house!

Apparently, the rest of Pittsburgh does as well.

According to Trulia, the number of 3 bedroom homes sold in Pittsburgh is 10 times higher than the number of one bedroom homes sold.  I can’t say for sure, but I’m wondering if those 1 bedroom homes are actually condos.  Meaning, those people buying one bedroom properties are also those looking for hassle-free living in secure high-rise buildings.

As I’m digesting this info, hundreds of thoughts are running through my mind.  What about my vision of adorable small houses dotting the Pittsburgh landscape?  What about my newfound conviction that smaller is better?  What about all the planet saving energy efficiency of a small home?  Is there any one out there who would buy my small house?

I contemplated and contemplated.  Resale value is important.  I do not want to be a landlord forever.  I want to create this sumptuous, eco-smart living space and eventually pass it along.

One, kinda self-ego boosting thought occurred to me.  Perhaps people in Pittsburgh aren’t buying one bedroom homes because nice one bedroom homes don’t exist.  The ones that do are over a 100 years old (seriously) and in need of major work, or they’re one level condos.  There really is nothing here like the small house I want to build.  Perhaps if I build it, they will come 🙂   I had my answer.  I was not going to sell-out to resale.

Living Simply

A tiny, mobile house in a Portland, Oregon yard.

A tiny, mobile house in a Portland, Oregon yard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t stop looking at pictures of obscenely small houses.  These homes are cozy little boxes for people who don’t just say they enjoy the simpler things in life, but really mean it.  Now I want one, but who am I kidding – I’m one of those people who can’t live with simple.  I need complicated and a tad bit of clutter.

But I’m still obsessed with the small house.  Its size is radical.  The use of space ingenious.  Its energy efficiency puts my own house to shame.

So I’ve decided I want to invest in this style of living simply.  This blog will document my journey into the world of small (but not tiny) home building.  Hopefully, it’ll be a successful one.  Stay tuned ….