A Southern Lady and Her Tool Belt
By: Dawn Izon
Lynda Bailey’s early life seemed the epitome of the Southern Belle; she actually had the privilege of growing up on a real-life plantation near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. She had her own horse to ride while exploring the many, many acres of this working farm. As a young woman fresh from high school she entered university and got her degree in Anthropology. She met and married a bright young man with a promising future and everything seemed to be coming up roses; but before long this woman found herself to be an abandoned mother with a newborn baby. So much for the Disneyesque story, this is beginning to sound more like real life to me.
But this gracious lady was not to be undone by circumstances; she returned to the low country she knew and loved and soon found she had a deep and abiding interest in historical structures, materials, and textures which led her to a very interesting and lucrative business creating custom drapery. While building her drapery business and retaining her interest and knowledge of historic homes, she soon found an opportunity to add set designing to her resume as movie companies discovered the beauty of Southern Plantation homes as sites for filming. The days last longer, the leaves stay on the trees most of the year, the people are gracious and friendly and the scenery is magnificent. Things could have been a whole lot worse for Lynda and her daughter as they forged ahead on their new life.
In 1980 Lynda came across a house in Charleston—actually the Isle of Palms—that was vacant and run down. Most other people ran from this tarnished jewel, branding it with names like “handyman special” or “fixer upper” or even a “Realtor’s nightmare”! Yet Lynda saw an opportunity to exercise a storehouse of skills she had held in reserve, both physical and artistic. She bought that little house for $54,000 and proceeded to fix and renovate it. When this project was finished, she turned it over for a very nice profit and found great satisfaction in a job well done. This was the first of 27 houses to follow, none of which were her full-time job. Not only did she approach these projects with the eye of an artist, she also brought the muscle of a construction crew. There is no job this little lady will not tackle.
Lynda and I had quite a few stories to regale each other with, as I have also done my own “fixer upper” projects over the years. We laughed about living with plaster dust, stripping old wall paper only to find the nightmares that lay beneath. We agreed that when you start one simple project… it turns into 10! I told her about the ceiling plaster falling in due to a plumbing leak, only to discover very old knob & tube wiring. She told me about finding burnt out wiring covered over with wallpaper. We’d both encountered the old cast iron radiators, plaster with the underlying lathe, original mahogany floors painted over with flat paint. Lynda has fixed plumbing, electrical, framing; she has sheet-rocked, plastered, and tiled. She has also worked on the finishing touches such as moldings and trim work—no easy task.
Even with the proper tools and miter saws, there are calculations and mathematical formulas in order to get the right angles to fit perfectly. I have a great deal of respect for this because of the hundreds of feet of trim molding I went through NOT getting the math right. We then joked about our accumulation of tools—Lynda prefers DeWalt while I prefer Hitachi—but we both agreed that taking a hammer and deconstructing something was a great way to work off anger and frustration. What is even more satisfying is being able to stand back at the end of the project and say, with pride, I did that!
Lynda doesn’t have much to be angry or frustrated about these days. She is currently living in Hendersonville with her new husband. After having spent a good number of years single, raising a child on her own, working and renovating houses, a good friend set her up with a single, never married doctor whom she worked with at the local hospital.
They find that they have a great many interests in common and although Lynda was not out there hunting for love, it sneaks right in her back door. In time they marry and wind up becoming the proud owners of a 7200 square foot Southern Beauty built in 1938 and formerly owned by the doctor’s uncle. This tiny little cottage comes complete with an indoor swimming pool, 3000 sq. foot basement which houses the many tools she accumulated over the years and a 90-foot-long dormered attic that Lynda has turned into her sewing room. Although she no longer actively runs a drapery business, there are certain professional contacts made over the years that insist on her work and she is happy to oblige, as time permits. Besides handling the current renovation of their home, Lynda is the very proud grandma of two miracle babies, one of which is only several weeks old. She runs back and forth between Hendersonville and Asheville, the current home of her daughter and son-in-law. I asked Lynda if her daughter shared her enthusiasm for renovating and building, which brought some laughter. “No,” she replied, “she has no interest in anything like that,” but is happy to ask Mom’s seasoned advise and help on her own household projects.
“So what’s next on the plate for Lynda,” I ask. She laughs her gentle laugh and says that they are just looking forward to finishing their current house, where they intend to remain.
“What happens when the project is finished?”
“Well,” she states, “we have a neighbor and friend who just happens to be a minister and whenever I finish a house he comes in and blesses it. So I guess there will be a blessing and a party in our near future.” I am sure that when that day comes, all will be delighted with the finished project and the extraordinary care which Lynda has shown toward every last detail and design. My hard hat is off to you Lynda Bailey: you have blended true southern charm with the skills of an architect.
Dawn Izon lived in the North, then the South and came “1/2 back” to Asheville to be near her only grandchild and family.