Building new ideas about women's work

House: An all-female Habitat for Humanity crew finds fun and a sense of accomplishment in renovation.

March 03, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Frank, the driver, dropped off the trash bin early yesterday morning and left.

And Eric Hoel - the only other guy on the job - stayed to supervise the recovery of the wood trim that a dozen volunteers stripped from a Waverly rowhouse's interior as part of the Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity home rehabilitation project. But his duties stopped there.

This is the house that Jack didn't build.

Laura did.

And Lisa and Missy, MaryAnn and JoAnn, Terry and Dayle, and the rest of the 12-member female construction crew assisted her by taking sledgehammers to plaster walls and crowbars to baseboards to renovate the 1920s brick house and prepare it for a new owner.

"Everyone thinks of construction as such a manly field," said Laura Laski, a 23-year-old first-time volunteer from Baltimore, who before yesterday had never completed a home improvement project more involved than painting a room or hanging pictures.

"It's not anymore," added Missy Gloyd, 28, of Carney between peeling molding from windows and dumping bits of crumbling plaster into a garbage can. "Demolition is fun."

In the back bedroom, Atlanta designer Dayle Bennett and her mother, Terry Duncan-Ross, cheered after removing a stubborn baseboard from the wall.

"Sometimes women need to get together and get dirty," Bennett said. "It's good for our souls."

The house, one of 15 that the Chesapeake group plans to rehabilitate this year, is part of Habitat's Women Build program. Started in 1998, the program promotes the involvement of women in the construction of Habitat homes.

"Every nail in this house will be hammered by women," said Jenny Hope, executive director of Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity.

By creating an all-female crew, Habitat officials hope women without construction experience will feel more comfortable volunteering, said Fiona Eastwood, director of Women Build for the Americus, Ga.-based group.

"What we're doing is taking the term `homemaker' and really making it what it is," Eastwood said. "Women for centuries have been pivotal figures in [the] home. Now we're saying you can get out there and build one."

According to the Tampa, Fla.-based Home Improvement Research Institute, women are also becoming a greater buying force in the home improvement industry.

Women bought almost 38 percent of hardware and other home improvement supplies in 1999, compared with 29 percent in 1995, the group's twice-yearly survey found.

And thanks to do-it-yourself programs on television, anyone can watch Martha Stewart rewire a lamp or see neighbors redecorate each other's living rooms during the course of a weekend.

"That's decorative stuff - we're talking about real stuff here. We're talking about bricks and mortar," said Allegra Bennett, the Baltimore author of three books about home renovation targeted at women, who was part of the crew working on the house yesterday.

Bennett has pledged to raise $1 million for Habitat for Humanity during her nine-month tour of the United States to promote her latest book, When a Woman Takes an Ax to a Wall.

"This is the stuff that frightens us," she said. "And this is a nice, inexpensive and safe way of demystifying what goes on behind a wall."

After spending more than 160 hours working on houses since the end of August, Lisa Beatty has become familiar with what goes on behind a wall.

She also knows all about framing a house, installing flooring, hammering and measuring.

Sometime this fall, after completing 140 more hours of "sweat equity," Beatty, a 34-year-old Hamilton mother of four, hopes to become a Habitat homeowner herself.

She's looking forward to applying her newfound carpentry skills to her own home.

"I have three boys - I'm going to need them," she said.

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