"It was so over the top, with 1970s mirrors on every surface, this huge second living room, weird stucco walls. It just looked wild and amazing," says RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 and All-Stars Season 2 alum Detox about falling in love at first sight with a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath property in Chicago, conveniently situated across the street from her sister. To Detox, a first-time home buyer, finding such a well-situated property that seemed tailored to her love of ‘70s and ‘80s maximalism seemed like a dream come true.
"There’s an indoor pool, and I was just like ‘Wow’" Detox says. "My sister convinced me to put in an offer, and I was not expecting it to be picked up because it was pretty low. But the owners liked me, and it just kind of happened. The next thing I knew, I was moving."
And while she knew immediately that the 2,100 square-foot home, which features an indoor sauna in addition to the pool, would need some updates, the drag superstar had no idea exactly how challenging it would be to give the home its first major renovation since the 1970s.
After closing on the house in 2017, the plan was to begin modernizing by updating the primary bedroom and bathroom in spring 2020. While Detox loved the mirrors, which are original and lined an entire wall of the primary bedroom, she had even bigger plans for the space. Her vision included new hardwood floors, a remodeled closet for her unsurprisingly extensive collection of vintage furs, and a dream bathroom, complete with custom vanity, decadently deep soaking tub, and one very important splurge—a Toto Neorest toilet. Once Detox had found a contractor with great recommendations and reviews, she assumed she was well on her way to having a beautiful, functional space for sleep, relaxation, and a glamorous solution for storing her extensive catalog of clothing and costumes.
What she actually got was any new homeowner’s nightmare: a contractor who disappeared mid-pandemic in 2020, an incomplete renovation that is still ongoing two years later, and a dream appliance installed in a way that defies explanation. Not to mention the fact that her new custom closets came with two critical flaws—incorrectly installed, hard-to-open doors and the fact that the closets were built directly above the vents, making the entire space cold in the winter and sweltering in summer. (The contractor in question has not replied to our request for comment, which tracks with Detox’s experience.)
Detox has extensively (and cheekily) detailed her renovation woes on Instagram, but there are a few key things she wishes she’d known as a first-time homebuyer looking to choose a contractor for her home renovations.
Be realistic about what you bought
Because Detox had never owned a home before, she had also never worked with a contractor. And while the relationship started off well, Detox says that during the process, many of the things she’d hoped for in the beginning—like a flat-screen TV hidden in the ceiling above the bed—were revealed to be out of reach by the sub-par wiring of an older house—a mistake made by the home’s previous owners, who had dangerously rigged the wiring in the bedroom. "To avoid frying electronics, we would have had to air condition the attic, which would have been crazy expensive," Detox says.
"I wish I would have been more realistic than the fact that I knew it was an older house," Detox says. "I also wish I would have maybe auditioned a few other contractors, done a little bit more research. But he had some rave reviews, and at first everything started off great. I think maybe he became overwhelmed, because he was getting busy too during the pandemic. A lot of people were renovating their houses. It was a big project, and I think it was a little bit more glam than he was prepared to do."
Asking the right questions about what’s possible for the space and budget, as well as checking to make sure the contractor has completed similar projects could save a lot of trouble in the long run—and be wary of those who overpromise from the start.
During the renovation process, Detox began to see her contractor less and less. Sometimes workers would arrive without any instructions as to what they were supposed to be working on. And during this time, plans for the renovation seemed to go awry. For six months, half of the house had no power and that luxurious bathroom was without hot water. Detox says during that time, she even moved in with her sister. And even when the bathroom became functional, drainage problems in the tub inexplicably caused bubbles to leak out of her overflow protector, while clunky, irregularly-placed electrical outlets situated directly under her carefully selected vanity mirrors made her marble sinks appear off-kilter. Not to mention the fact that her coveted toilet was also installed off-center amid her custom bathroom tile and for some reason, wouldn’t stop flushing.
"There are so many things that are not centered or off," Detox says. "The contractor’s argument was like ‘Oh well it’s an older house.’ Yes, it’s an older house but it was a totally gutted renovation project. Everything was custom. There should be no room for those kinds of errors. Like you guys, you did all the work. You laid the tile. You did the dimensions. And now he’s been MIA for a year."
Though the instinct to trust the expert is completely understandable for a home renovation rookie, giving plans a hard look with an eye toward practicality before construction starts never hurts. Asking specific questions about exactly where outlets will go and how design impacts functionality could save a lot of headache.
"The closets are built over the air conditioning ducts," she says, "so now I don’t get a lot of air. That means all the closets now have to be taken out and the air conditioning ducts moved. I can live in it, but I’m not happy with it."
Get excited about the small things
After finally moving back into to her still-unfinished bedroom in October 2021—over a year and a half after the project started—Detox is finding little ways to stay positive, taking on projects like creating a 1980s meets Art Deco "Gucci fantasy" in her guest room, complete with teal walls, custom carpeting and Hollywood bulb-framed vanity mirror, as well as installing a perfect, Tim Burton-inspired garden to feel more at home in her new home.
"I’ve just added what looks like a little Edward Scissorhands yard, new flowers, and all kinds of stone," Detox says. "They’ve pressure washed all the exterior. So little things like that get me more excited about what’s next."
In October, Detox plans to interview new contractors and designers to finish her renovations, this time, with the help of her sister, a renovation veteran herself who has also studied interior design and architecture. In addition, Detox plans to ask what she now considers a question critical to the selection process:
"Are you familiar with glamour, and can you provide it?"
Top photo by Shannon Daniels, courtesy Detox