John's World: Death by Remodeling

04:27AM Apr 30, 2011
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It occurred to She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed that if we have the money to squander on farm luxuries like GPS upgrades and oil filters, there should be some surplus remaining that can be used to "touch up" some long-standing domestic shortcomings.

These include things such as the hole in the carpet in the master bedroom, the ceiling stains from a leak in the roof and the mismatched trim throughout the upper floor, where previous room-by-room remodeling has left our upstairs looking like one of the before-and-after contrasts you see on those cable TV shows.

Vague references to "getting new carpet" or "painting the ceiling" are cruelly misleading. They sound like things other guys do without too much trouble. But it is at this exact point that most redecorating projects degenerate into remodeling.

The minute you clear out all the furniture, drapes, floor covering, pizza boxes, etc., from a room, you are struck by how ugly it actually is. This won’t do at all, you fret. Now that the chamber has been stripped to its bare unmentionables, why not make it All Better?

And you are off. Once you take that fatal step, you set into motion an inevitable chain of events that exponentially expands your every effort. Each act of demolition reveals more problems than starting points, often quite alarming problems involving shabby initial construction, rot and other species. (On the upside, I did find a hammer I lost during the construction of our house in 1978.)

Too many choices.

The first challenge is to rein in the demolition while some structure still remains. This is virtually impossible when the job is done by professionals, since they can always document reasons why a garden hose plumbing patch, for example, should be corrected immediately. For the do-it-yourselfer, the fact that nothing bad has happened yet is a good excuse to leave it alone.

Just when sleeping in the dining room begins to lose its exotic allure, other challenges seem to rush at you in rapid sequence. Many of them involve paint colors, none of which will have helpful names and all of which are not quite exactly right. The paint sample always seems to change hue on the trip home from the store.

More dramatically, the color, once spread over an entire wall, assumes a formidable presence and suddenly looks alarming. This phenomenon is often ascribed to faulty eyesight and judgment, when actually it’s designed into the paint by manufacturers to maximize the number of trips and quarts needed to paint even the smallest closet.

For DIY remodelers, the differences between "Golden Slumber" or "Blue Silk" and their immediate neighbors on the color wheel can be a showstopper—or at least dominate conversation for several years after the hoped-for end of the project. There is a point at which all involved want to slap olive drab on every surface just to put the room out of its (and their) misery.

Remodeling moves in with you like an unwanted brother-in-law. Only instead of eating your food, it makes all your food taste like sawdust (unless you are redoing your kitchen, in which case it tastes like carryout). You’re always at the job site, and often find yourself in your pajamas trying to figure out how to reroute wiring around a new lighting fixture.

Even in sleep, you can continue to labor. True story: I have dreamt about the insulation I forgot to install under a floor I just rebuilt. Jan woke me up because I was sobbing into my pillow. She thought it was because of all the $4.10 corn I sold this year. If only.

No end in sight.

There is a low point in every remodeling project where despair of ever returning to normal threatens to erode your life force. It is in these dark hours that you must reach into the Tool Belt of Your Character and find the resolve to press on toward the finish line. But the spiritual tool you are looking for was probably drywalled somewhere behind the new cabinets. (Along with your hammer.)

Those HGTV addicts who persevere can, by brute force, actually find closure, emerging scarred but temporarily wiser. Tragically, time fiddles with our memories of remodeling such that, within a few months, we don’t remember that it was like a root canal gone wrong. Worse still, we
begin to notice a few corners that could do with a little "spruce-up."

Write this down: It’s not a spruce. It’s a giant redwood.