We knew before we moved in that bringing our new hanok home up to our standards would be no easy task, but I don't think we realized JUST how difficult it would be. For a month before moving in, basically the only thing me and the boyfriend were talking about was our new house and what we would do when we moved in. We decided that we would re-wallpaper the two bedrooms with hanji, a traditional Korean handmade paper. We decided that we would get some wardrobes, a stove with an oven (oh my), a water purification machine and a dish washer (small counter top size). We contemplated for weeks over what kind of table to get for the kitchen, how to arrange the furniture in the bedroom and whether or not we wanted a sofa for the living room. What we did not even consider was all the potential problems we would encounter with the house.
The tenants left the house in Sunday, June 3rd, and so we went by the house to check out how things looked. The house was trashed. It appeared as though the last tenants had never cleaned the place once. The walls were covered in dead, smooshed mosquitoes, and as the land lady went around with a broom I saw her sweeping up a few carcases of GIANT cockroaches along with all the dust and dog hairs from the previous guests. This was not a good sign. After inspection of the kitchen, the whole area around the stove was completely caked in grease, including the exhaust fan. We demanded that it be cleaned, so the landlady cleaned the fan for us. We went straight to the bathroom to try to see what we could do there.
In order to fix the black looking tiles, we bought some grout whitening liquid, which the man in the home repair shop recommended. Upon trying it on our tiles it looked like this (ignore the huge white rectangle in the back, that's something else). But it looks seriously messy and unprofessional....
Note to self: grout whitener and cement don't mix well...
Tiles before and after the grout whitening liquid
Monday afternoon we went out shopping for hanji. We found the best place to buy hanji, and all other home improvement needs is Bangsan Market 방산시장 near Eulchi-ro 4-ga. While there were tons of hanji sellers scattered around the market, we found this particular one, which had a slightly more varied selection of paper and never turned back. While we originally decided to just wall paper the bedrooms, upon seeing the state of the paper covered in dead mosquitoes and slightly browned from water stains, we decided to just go ahead and re-wall paper everything. On our first stop to the hanji store, we got enough paper to do the walls and ceiling of the main bedroom and the kitchen. For the bedroom wall, we chose a paper made with small pressed leaves and for the kitchen a paper made with pressed clovers. They have a big machine there, too, that will cut the edges of the paper for you if they are too rough, or if you need smaller pieces. The price of the hanji was quite reasonable, we thought, about 800 won per sheet, meaning about 60-80,000 won per room. While it's more expensive than cheap Korean wall paper, it is much prettier and definitely within our budget.
As we got to wall papering we started to find more problems. As we pulled up the (ugly, plastic-y) flooring to bring the wall paper down to the base, we realized that all the wall paper under the plastic was completely covered in pink and black mold. So, then while the others wall papered, it was my job to go around the base, cut out everything that was moldy and then bleach it to kill any other mold that might think about growing later.
For some reason, the boyfriend thought that wall papering was going to be an easy task, something we could just whip up and do the whole house in one night. And as much as I told him it wouldn't he didn't really believe me until we actually started to get going. He thought we were going to even get to wall paper the ceiling, but after taking the entire evening and 4 different people helping us to do one room, he realized that trying to do the ceiling would be too much of a task for us. Thank god.
The next night we moved on to the kitchen. Kitchen took us 3 days for some reason, not sure why since it was smaller than the bedroom. We also decided to solve the grease and bowing tile problem by covering everything with something Koreans call 시트지. I don't know what this is called in English, but basically it is a fake tile sticker that you can put over your walls to protect them. You can buy cheap ones in Daiso, but we went to Bangsan market again and picked up a little higher quality stuff and put it around the entire sink/counter/stove area, it cost 2,500 won per meter. Since the stove doesn't fit into the counter, we had to install it around the corner, therefore we needed to cover all that area, too. We originally bought 5 meters thinking it would be plenty, but it turns out we had to go back and get another 9 meters, and then we had to skimp a little on the area behind the stove since you can't see it anyway. I guess I'm not a very good judge of surface area... Even the tile stickers were hard to stick. You needed two people to align it properly since you can't let it stick to the wall by accident, otherwise the backing sometimes comes right off the paper.
Once the kitchen and main bedroom were complete, we were starting to feel better. We were able to fix up the living room in a jiffy. We wall papered but it only took an hour or so do complete everything. We put a bamboo mat on the ground which is super cool to lay on in the summer, put up my hanji covered table and called the internet/phone/cable guy to come and install everything. With a 3 year contract (which we carried over from our old place) we're able to get wi-fi, internet telephone, and IPTV (lets you record programs and download videos on demand) we only pay 27,000 a month, plus they pay us 200,000 won as a bonus for setting up a contract. Not bad, I say.
The only problem in our living room is the ceiling. Well, it looks beautiful on the surface, but the more you stare at it, the more problems you can see. I had no idea that a ceiling like this was made from clay (painted white), but there are a few places where the clay has unfortunately started to crumble, causing occasional sprinkles of dust and bits from the ceiling to fall to the ground. Meaning that we need to sweep often.
The easiest was the courtyard 마당. I think it's my favorite part of the house. This was easy to clean, all we had to do was spray a hose and sweep!
That's as far as we got before our housewarming party last weekend. But, that's not the end. Of course, I alluded to our cockroach problem before as our landlady was sweeping up the dead carcases of cockroaches, I knew that was a bad sign. After spotting one or two as we were wall papering before we moved in, it was about another week before we saw another. The boyfriend woke up in the middle of the night to kill a mosquito. When he turned on the light, he never found the mosquito, but he found another giant cockroach scuttling across our bedroom floor. He screamed like a girl and sprayed it with the roach killer till it keeled over. That was a bit unnerving. We realized then we had to do something about this problem.
After some research online on various websites, I found that the most effective and (mostly) non-toxic solution is boric acid (which is 붕산 in Korean for future reference). It's available at Korean pharmacies and is super cheap, like 500 won for a box of it. It doesn't kill the cockroaches right away, it has to be absorbed by them and then it will kill them later, and hopefully their babies too since apparently baby cockroaches eat mommy cockroaches poop. First we sprinkled it all around, in the house and in the alleyway. A few days later I found a recipe for making bait using boric acid as well. Sugar, boric acid and flour mixed with water to make a dough/cake like substance. I put that all around the house, but it's hard to tell if those monsters have eaten it or not. Then our friend went out and bought us a 1,000 won spray bottle from Daiso and we dissolved it in water and sprayed that around the courtyard and the alleyway as well. We have to figure out some way to eradicate them from not just our house, but around our house as well... even if we get rid of them in our house, we can't walk down our alley without seeing one or two wondering around as well. As soon as we eradicate them from our house, they'll just wonder back in from the street. This, I think, will be a constant, never-ending battle.
The last problem we've encountered is all the past water damage. As Hanoks are supported not by the walls, but with the beams and columns, there are several wooden columns throughout the house. The ones in the living room have been kept in immaculate condition, but unfortunately the rest suffered water damage before the roof was replaced and, instead of restoring them properly, the landlord has just covered them with wall paper. We were curious how hard it would be to restore the columns, so we opened them up to see what we had to work with. This is what we found. We're still debating whether we should cover it up again or give it a shot and try to at least somewhat recover it. It will never look like the columns in the living room, but it could look better than covered with wall paper...
Today, as I write from the comfort of my cockroach free home in America, the boyfriend is working on finishing the last room of our house, the second bedroom. We chose two tones for the wall paper, white and beige, with a flowery chair rail of hanji to go around the middle. I feel sorry for the boyfriend who is now forced to finish everything himself with me gone for the summer, but I have faith he can do it. I can't wait to see how the last room turns out in the end!! I hope by the time I return in September that we'll have a completely finished, beautiful, and mostly cockroach free house!