I had to build me a house

Published 5:31 pm Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just after Hurricane Katrina, Doris Vandrell of Carriere went to buy roofing material to fix her roof where the tree fell through it.

“It’s a good thing I didn’t buy it,” Vandrell said. “When I got home my son told me that the underneath part of my house was completely rotted. I thought he was kidding like he always does, but he was serious. It had gone from wet to mold to mildew to rot.”

Her son Kevin Vandrell and his friend had crawled around under the house and found irreparable damage.

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“There was only one thing left to do. I had to wait until the insurance came in and then build me a house.” She said this while standing in the unfinished kitchen of her new home.

It’s the same thing that happened to hundreds of people in Pearl River County. However, Doris Vandrell will turn 80 years old in October, almost two years after beginning the task.

The handy 1,442 square foot cottage sports two bedrooms and two baths with an open floor plan for the dining area and living area. It’s painted in pastels with darker blue cabinets.

“These cabinets came from the old house. I had to draw up the plans in such a way to be able to use as much from the old house as possible,” she said. “And these cabinets came from the utility room. I couldn’t give those up, I need the storage.”

The columbine blue kitchen cabinets are dressed up with bird house door knobs, and birdhouses sit perkily atop the cabinets. The cabinets are place exactly as they were positioned in the old house. Her measurements were perfect. She couldn’t bring the butcher block cabinet tops because they wouldn’t fit in the corners.

“All this is hand-me-downs,” Vandrell said. “My daughter asked me if I wanted her birdhouses for my kitchen, and I said. ‘Yes!’ The only thing is, I can’t find material with birdhouses on it for my kitchen curtains.”

The marble in the guest bathroom is also from the old house. She added that after considerable elbow grease, the stains on the marble came out.

She has done a lot of the work herself, putting in the electrical boxes and placing the insulation. Her son and a friend helped with framing, sheetrock and wiring.

“It was amazing to see her up in the attic putting in the insulation,” said Vandrell’s neighbor, Mary Beth Plaisance. “She’s amazing.”

“Oh, pish,” Vandrell said. “I took after my father who worked for New Orleans Public Service. He painted. Help was offered, but I wanted to do it.”

“She’s a bit of a perfectionist,” Plaisance said with a smile. She turned to her friend, “Is there anyway you’d show the old house?”

“Oh, no indeed. It’s a mess,” Vandrell fired back.

The porch of her new house will showcase the two mantels from the two fireplaces in the old house. There isn’t a fireplace in this one. At the side of the house, Vandrell plans to have a patio.

“I’ll do the patio like I’m doing the house: as I can afford it.” she said.

Doing the work herself, this nearly 80 year old woman has saved a bundle she said. “I have spent about $31,000. I’d have to go look at all my receipts, but that’s about what I’ve spent.”

The porch isn’t finished, but Vandrell is eager to move in. “The attic isn’t closed in over the porch, yet, but I don’t care. I want to move in. Right now I’m basically camping. I have a hot plate and (a utility sink) with a box beside it to put my dishes to dry. I’ve been living like that since after the storm. I’m ready to move.”