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Meet Abby, St. Louis' go-to Handyperson

Here's Abby Crawford (@athomewithabc), a member of Matriarchy Build's directory of female trades professionals. A skilful DIY'er and handyperson local to St. Louis, Abby also manages multiple rental properties. Thanks to a deep interest in restoring old homes, Abby helps other folks work on their homes, too.

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About Matriarchy Build

In a bid to create an open, friendly space to chat with a diverse group of women about renovation, design and DIY projects, Lacey & Gabriella created Matriarchy Build. It's a platform gathering a roster of female trades professionals, including everything from Carpenters to Handypersons. You can swiftly search through the directory and book 1:1 video consultations for support and guidance on your DIY or renovation projects.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Abby, one of Matriarchy Build's knowledgeable professionals, to learn about her background and get some advice on managing rentals and nailing DIY projects 🔨

How it all started 🏡

"I was very fortunate to purchase my first home nearly 20 years ago. I learned through that process a lot about century homes, what I am and am not willing to compromise on, and how to tackle many projects myself.  In addition to working on my own home, adding rental properties to our portfolio increased the opportunity I had to practice. When something breaks or isn’t set up in a way that serves us, I research it for hours and figure out a plan. Then I decide whether I want to take it on myself or hire it out. I hire out a lot of things (mostly due to time) but I go into those partnerships with the full knowledge of what should be happening, which sets me up to be a stronger communicator with the folks we hire.

Over the last few years, I’ve also taken on doing work for other people in their homes.  This has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling!  I have loved Matriarchy Build’s platform because I get to meet folks who feel similarly about old houses and are trying to continue to invest in their spaces.  What a treat!  I also work on projects for folks across the city of St. Louis, and we are fortunate to have thousands of century homes here in my area.

I do my 'home work' in addition to a more traditional career in leadership development.  I feel so grateful that I get to meld so many passions into the way I spend my time."



Five tips for renovating an old property 👷‍♀️

  1. "Deep clean EVERYTHING when you first acquire a new property.  You’ll learn so much about the home in the process.  And, many things that look like they need to be gutted or replaced are actually just incredibly dirty.  Major budget savings and a clean space?  Win, win!
  2. Find trades and contractors who love old homes as much as you do.  Not everyone wants to take on the mental gymnastics of restoring and updating century homes, and that’s okay!  Find the folks who do, and build wonderful partnerships.
  3. Be willing to postpone the “pretty.”  You’ll spend most time and money on: plumbing, electrical, roofing, HVAC, and foundations.  Just accept that and internalize that what you’re doing now will benefit the home (and you!) for decades to come.  Doing it right is worth it.  And “right” is often expensive.  That’s okay.
  4. Research your new property.  Find your local historic preservation group or even your city library.  Look into who lived there, their story, how the home has been used in the past, and what the surrounding area looked like when it was built.  This will inspire the project in meaningful ways.
  5. Buckle up for a wild ride.  It will take longer than you want it to.  It will be more expensive than you’re planning.  There will be moments of frustration and “what in the world am I thinking!?!?”  All of that is normal.  And when you need a laugh, watch the old classic 'Money Pit' for some much-needed comic relief."


Handling rental homes 24/7

"As a rental property owner, I always joke that I don’t choose the projects - they choose me.  In September I found myself gutting a bathroom in one of our homes.  Did I plan on spending my weekend replacing a subfloor?  No, I did not.  But there was a leak we didn’t know about, we were in between renters, and I had 24 hours to get it done.

I think that’s the most challenging and most rewarding part of this for me.  There is very often instant gratification, which I LOVE!  And, there are often surprises which are less delightful.  I work to always remember that homes are nothing more than artfully arranged wood, nails, and caulk.  Important to keep top of mind as you both rip things apart and put things back together."


Home office build

Essential rental maintenance jobs 🧼

  1. "Professionally cleaned HVAC 1-2 times per year will help you keep ahead of any outages or updates that need to happen.  You don’t want to get a call from a guest that a furnace stopped working in the middle of the night in January. 
  2. Twice annual power washing of the entire property will set you up to scan for exterior fixes that need to happen.  Whether you hire this job out or do it yourself, giving your home a major scrub down is instrumental in highlighting soffits that need repair, paint that needs updating, or gutters that are past their prime.
  3. Trimming trees and shrubs not only keeps things looking great, but it helps to ensure that no power lines or other exterior things could be damaged by falling limbs in a storm.  In Missouri, we get heavy rain and storms fairly frequently.  We both hire this project out for our larger trees and do much of it ourselves on smaller ornamental trees and shrubs."


Must-have tools for DIY ⛏

  1. "Magnetic stud finder.  In old homes with very old walls, a traditional scanning stud finder just does not work.  A magnetic stud finder locates the nails and screws already in the wall which usually leads to a stud.  Hooray!
  2. Drill and driver.  I find that nearly every project requires a great drill/driver set along with an assortment of bits.  Whether it’s pilot holes for a mirror or assembling furniture, I reach for my drill and my driver constantly.
  3. Two-inch angled 'stubb' paint brush.  Painting older homes is a hilarious adventure.  Walls, floors, corners, and trim are anything but level and square.  Having a short-handled brush is a game-changer for getting into those uneven spaces and doing it smoothly."



The full bathroom renovation 🛁

"Recently, we renovated our own home's bathroom. Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Clean everything very thoroughly.
  2. Develop your plan.  What’s going where, what’s changing about the layout, what finishes will you use.
  3. Remove what’s not staying, and donate what you can.  This includes fixtures (toilet, sink, etc) and other elements (flooring, trim, etc).
  4. Revisit your plan.  Does it still work now that the space is empty?  Reevaluate and make adjustments.
  5. Hire a licensed plumber and electrician to rough in the new outlets, sockets, overhead lighting, vent fan, plumbing, etc.
  6. Repair any drywall after the rough in work.
  7. Begin installing new elements (shower pan, tile, etc) including any necessary pre-work such as floor leveling or installing cement board.
  8. Finish tile with grout and (if applicable) sealant.
  9. Install plumbing trim kits and new lighting (or, have plumber and electrician return to do that)
  10. Deep clean space and move back in!
  11. (Have necessary inspections done in between steps as dictated by your local municipality)


Tips and tricks

  1. Measure, measure, measure.  Figure out exactly what is feasible in your bathroom and what isn’t.  Embrace what is doable and don’t look back.
  2. The bathrooms we work on are tiny because none of them are original to the homes we own.  Streamlining materials and finishes makes the space look organized and visually impactful.  We often reach for white tile, black grout, and chrome as our primary finishes.
  3. Hire out plumbing and electrical rough-in.  Sure, you can install faucets and change out light fixtures, but if you have to move things around, hire it out.
  4. Pull permits.  Always.  I do not play with unpermitted work.  It’s a public receipt of the job being done and done well in your home, and it is a non-negotiable for me."


Women in DIY 💪

"The only reason there are fewer women in this industry is because for millenia women were not allowed to have careers outside the home.  And that lack of access created a false narrative that we 'can’t' do this work.  I’d argue that our history makes us better at working on our homes than anyone else.  The expertise of what needs to happen within these walls is literally in our DNA.

To anyone considering a career in construction or even anyone just wanting to tackle a project in their home, I’d say GO FOR IT.  Take on a learning posture, research your project and approach for hours, learn and grow, and then try it.  Embody the mindset that projects worth doing are worth doing well.

And, if you’re still feeling uncertain, start paying attention to public spaces you frequent.  I promise you, all of the public spaces you visit often were finished by professionals.  I’ve seen more crooked tile, sloppy woodwork, and bad paint jobs in shops, offices, and restaurants than I ever have in my own home.  Be the person who is detail oriented, and you’ll go far."

Inspiring old homes 💭

"I didn’t join Instagram until the end of 2019, and I have adored finding so many like-minded folks who are obsessed with old homes. It’s like I finally located my people!"



"A treasure trove of stories about my city and the old homes we all love."



"Shavonda was one of my first IG friends and has really helped shape my mind and heart when it comes to not only old homes, but small homes.  Small, old spaces for LIFE."



"Katie lives in an old home in Minnesota and has such a love for her space. That love shows through in all the projects she tackles and documents."

That's a wrap on our tea break with Abby. If you're eager to learn more about her rental management and other DIY projects, follow Abby at @athomewithabc 🏡