March 5, 2005: Headlines: COS - Samoa: Real Estate: The Detroit News: Samoa RPCV Joe Bell and his wife put the sweat and then some into the term sweat equity

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Samoa: Peace Corps Samoa : The Peace Corps in Samoa: March 5, 2005: Headlines: COS - Samoa: Real Estate: The Detroit News: Samoa RPCV Joe Bell and his wife put the sweat and then some into the term sweat equity

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Samoa RPCV Joe Bell and his wife put the sweat and then some into the term sweat equity

Samoa RPCV Joe Bell and his wife put the sweat and then some into the term sweat equity

Samoa RPCV Joe Bell and his wife put the sweat and then some into the term sweat equity

Brave new bungalow

Couple's sweat equity transforms a Ferndale fixer-upper.

Caption: Joe and Katie Bell saw potential in this 1928 house. Photo: Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News

By Marge Colborn / Detroit News Design Editor

The Bells' first furniture purchase was this comfy sofa from Art Van. The couple is expecting their first child this month.

Joe and Katie Bell put the sweat and then some into the term sweat equity.

When the couple bought their first home for $136,000 in November 2000, they had next to nothing to move into the Ferndale fixer-upper.

"We didn't even have a second-hand sofa for the living room," says Joe Bell, 38, a math teacher at Renaissance High School in Detroit, who previously spent time in Western Samoa as a Peace Corps volunteer.

"I was still a full-time graduate student," says Katie Bell, 28, who is now a speech pathologist for Warren Woods Public Schools. "So, needless to say, we didn't have much money."

What the dedicated duo did have was chutzpah.

"Joe did so many projects on his own -- he refinished floors, laid the bathroom's ceramic tile floor and built the porch, patio and walkway," Katie says. "To be honest, I had no idea he was so handy."

For his part, Joe credits his can-do attitude to growing up on a farm outside Seattle. Plus, he'd rather not pay someone to do a job he thinks he can do.

The Bells and their renovated, 1,400-square-foot 1928 frame arts and crafts bungalow are Homestyle's 2005 first offering in its occasional First Home series. Their tale is an inspiring one for Gen-Xers or, really, anyone who's renovating a home on a budget. Even baby boomers who may be sprucing up a second home can learn from this hard-working husband and wife who will become parents this month and already have a picture-perfect nursery in place.

For starters, Joe rented a sander and refinished all the wood floors, no easy task for a first-timer. Then he and Katie painted each room a different color -- a creamy butter in the living room, mint green in the dining room, sky blue in the kitchen and lavender in the bathroom. Katie had fun making all the color choices.
Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News

The leather easy chair came from Costco. Joe Bell sanded and refinished all the wood floors.

"My wife's not afraid of color -- that's for sure," Joe says.

"Since we didn't have anything to hang on the walls, I wanted them to be colorful," Katie adds.

Next came the one-and-only bathroom.

"It was moldy, mildewy and it smelled bad," Joe recalls.

Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News

Joe Bell and a friend gutted the bathroom and then installed a new toilet, tub and shower, pedestal sink and ceramic tile floor.
He and a friend who works for Pulte Homes gutted the bathroom. They installed new walls, toilet, lighting, tub and shower, pedestal sink, built-in cabinet and ceramic flooring. A dramatic mirror replaces a minuscule medicine cabinet/mirror.

Fortunately for the Bells, a family member gave them a hefty discount to install gas logs in their living room fireplace; Joe paid $200 for the realistic-looking gas logs at an end-of-the-season clearance sale at Broilier's Barbecue & Fireplace in Ferndale.

The couple transformed an enclosed back porch that was being used as a mud room into a three-season sun room complete with white wicker furniture. Katie installed peel-and-stick vinyl tiles and hung gauzy curtains for a Florida ambience.

"Eventually, I graduated and got hired as a school-based speech pathologist," Katie says. "With a little more money to spend, we demolished and rebuilt the front porch, laid a brick walkway, painted the exterior of the house, including teal trim, as well as the garage and added crown molding inside the house."

Rebuilding the front porch involved heavy lifting of discarded cement, excavating for the enlarged porch and building a wooden railing. The porch now extends across the entire front of the house in true arts and crafts style. Joe jokingly compares the excavation process of this project to the movie "God's Little Acre" in which a Georgia farmer believes treasure is buried on his property.

Next on the agenda was the vintage kitchen, which was treated to laminate wood flooring, new appliances, new plumbing and new sink fixtures. The original white cupboards, still in good shape, were given new hardware. A one-of-a-kind artist's ceramic tile now covers the hole over the sink where the no-longer-functional Dishmaster pull-out hose was located.
Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News

The dining room table and chairs belonged to Joe's parents.

Finally, it was time to furnish and decorate, using some of their wedding gift money for splurges.

In the living room, a rolled-arm, royal blue sofa from Art Van and a leather easy chair from Costco are arranged around a leaf-patterned area rug from Home Depot. A decorative mirror over the fireplace came from Pier 1 Imports -- "It was a gift from our bridal registry there," Katie says. A $2,000 armoire, also a wedding gift from Katie's parents, holds the TV. A $5 garage sale table sits next to the armoire. (It helps that the Bells own a TrailBlazer to transport their large home furnishings' finds.)

The dining room table and chairs were a hand-me-down gift from Joe's parents in Seattle. Katie recovered the seat cushions with a floral fabric from Haberman's in Royal Oak.

"I remember doing homework on that dinner table," Joe says.

A vintage china cabinet with a pull-out nickel tray was a gift from Katie's parents. Her dad quips that he spent $100 for the antique and 100 hours of time to strip four layers of paint from it. The cabinet now holds the couple's wedding china. A striped rug from TJMaxx anchors the table.

"Katie found the dining room mirror at a Tijuana flea market during our trip to Mexico," Joe says. "She carried it home."

The handsome master bedroom furniture, including a romantic sleigh bed, came from House of Bedrooms in Bloomfield Hills. Pottery Barn was the source for the multicolored duvet cover.

Since the Bells opted not to learn the sex of their baby, they decorated the nursery in yellow and green. The Nautica curtain panels were a steal at $20 a piece from Bed Bath & Beyond. The rug was purchased at the Pottery Barn outlet store at Birch Run in Auburn Hills. A wing chair came from Babies R Us, and the crib was a Baby & Kids purchase.

On the second floor, the Bells have created what they call a mother-in-law suite. A guest bedroom is adorable with a bed covered in a Wedding Ring pattern quilt that was hand-stitched by a family friend years ago.

Throughout the house, the Bells have hung photos and mementos from their trips to Mexico, Hawaii and Colorado. A black and white framed photo of Katie's parents when they were young walking the boardwalk at Atlantic City is especially endearing.

"We really love our house, even its flaws, and our wonderful Ferndale neighbors," Katie says.

In due time, the Bells will need a bigger house for their growing family, but for now they can be proud of the sweat equity that has turned a house into a charming first home.

Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News

A former mud room was turned into a three-season sun room and furnished with white wicker furniture and gauzy sheers at the windows.

What the Bells learned

A project you think will take a few hours to complete invariably takes a few days.

It's best not to attempt projects you feel queasy about doing. Joe Bell hired a professional to install the gas fireplace insert, for instance.

Before tackling a major project such as laying ceramic tile in a bathroom, try a smaller version of the same task, such as tiling a small table top.

It almost always takes two or more coats of paint to cover walls and ceilings, especially if you're painting a lighter hue over a darker one.

If you purchase unfinished wood furniture from a store, such as Naked Furniture in Royal Oak, let the store pros finish the piece (stain or paint) because they'll do the job faster and better than you can.

Never reject a hand-me-down piece of wood furniture. You can always paint it and re-use it. The Bells gladly accepted a solid, old, three-drawer wood chest, using it first as a TV stand, then as a blanket chest.

No art for the walls? Consider painting the walls vibrant hues to distract from the lack of art work.

Don't know much about tiling, plastering, plumbing? Joe Bell turned to books from Home Depot for his renovation projects.

You can reach Marge Colborn at (313) 222-2756 or

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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RPCVs: Post your stories or press releases here for inclusion next week.

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Story Source: The Detroit News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Samoa; Real Estate



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