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Therapy for a restless nature

By on May 23, 2021 in Featured Homes with 0 Comments
The stuccoed house and new wall compare nicely to the original house, pictured in last year’s story.

‘Miserable failures at relaxing,’ couple completes remodel of Arizona house

By Lief Carlsen

In the May 2020 issue of The Good Life, I wrote about how my wife and I had refurbished a modest house in Ajo, Arizona (Vanquishing the restlessness). 

We worked on the house’s inside that year and left the exterior work for the next (this) year. Good as our word, we returned to Ajo in January and spent the winter sprucing up the yard and the house’s exterior. 

Last year I wrote that we considered our project to be therapy for our restless natures. Each little improvement to the house brought us one step closer to our goal and we savored the sense of accomplishment. By January of 2021 we were eager to return to Ajo and get back to work.

The first order of business was doing something about the siding. 

The house still had its original siding — board and batten cedar, painted white. The cedar had held up remarkably well over the 70 years since the house was built but its several coats of paint had not. The Arizona sun is not kind to painted wood. 

Stucco is the preferred exterior for houses in Arizona. It weathers the extreme heat well. 

Trouble was, I had no experience working with stucco. But I was determined to have a go at it anyway because I can’t stand to pay what pros usually demand for their expertise. 

Then a neighbor recommended a man named Juan who was willing to do the job for a very reasonable price. We hired Juan. In addition to getting a professional job from Juan, I got to observe his technique, which gave me the confidence to take on a stucco job of my own.

All houses in Ajo have their yards enclosed by chain link fences. That’s because packs of coyotes and herds(?) of pig-like animals called javelinas roam the streets at night rummaging through trash and vegetation that isn’t protected by a barrier. 

The chain link fences do a fine job of keeping out the coyotes and javelinas but esthetically they leave something to be desired. 

Why not, I thought, replace the chain link with traditional Spanish/Mexican enclosure of adobe or stucco wall?

Without access to machinery to tear out the fence and no way to haul in a large quantity of block to build the wall, I decided to encapsulate the existing fence in my wall. 

After pouring a concrete footing, I screwed together frames of two-inch by two-inch lumber and faced them with cement board. These panels were connected on either side of the fence and then the stucco was applied to them. 

I can’t say that I saved myself time or money by doing it that way but the result could easily pass for a traditional stucco wall. To complete the traditional Spanish look, I built a brick arch over the gate and embedded colorful tiles in the stucco.

Mary enjoys the backyard, reshaped in the first year of the remodel.

Another unique feature of Ajo homes is the absence of lawns. No house in Ajo has a lawn. Whether it’s the extreme heat or the cost of water that is the problem I never learned. 

Most houses either have just bare dirt around them or an assortment of cacti. I don’t care for cacti or bare dirt and because we don’t live there year around, a lawn is out of the question. 

Citrus trees seem to like the climate and their bright green foliage is a nice contrast to the barren desert so I planted six of them and put them on a timed drip system. We’ll have to wait until next year to find out how that works.

Mary kept busy painting everything in sight. I thought she had painted everything last year but she proved me wrong. She painted the closets, the window frames, the house trim, the underside of the eaves, the pantry, the front porch and more. She is incredibly patient and thorough — unlike me.

I installed a mini-split heating/air conditioning unit to replace the old, rusted evaporative cooler and covered the hole in the wall where the cooler had been with a stained glass window. 

We also covered another gap in the wall where the former gas heater had been with a hearth and electric fireplace. The kitchen got a new countertop and backsplash; the garage got a new coat of paint.

With that, we stood back and admired our work and said to each other “What’s next?” 

One option was to sit back and relax in our “winter residence,” like normal retired people. We tried that for a week but were miserable failures at relaxing. 

We needed another project. Another fixer-upper? Perhaps build an adobe style house from scratch? We will have to sell our current Ajo house to pay for that. 

We’re still trying to decide. Tune in next year to find out what we decide!

Lief Carlsen contributes a few articles each year to The Good Life. His passions are bicycles, small houses and Mary, his wife. 

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