Sunday, August 17, 2014

Who Did This? Hooligans?

The bad thing about renovating a bathroom yourself is someone is going to sit in there long enough to notice all the blemishes.

Whether it’s a family-taco-night-gone-wrong or bad crab dip at a Super Bowl party, a guest or family member eventually is going to come out of there after an excessively long time and say “Did you know there’s a patch on the wall with no paint on it?”

This is progress?
That’s when your wife will give you that I-told-you-we-should-have-hired-a-professional look.

Admittedly, I don’t do well with home improvement projects. The general reaction from guests who see my handy work is, “When were you vandalized? Will insurance cover all this damage?”

I have a little more time to take on such projects, and I rarely like paying people to do something I think I can do. I get that from my dad, an engineer who added a family room to our house, put on a new front porch and made me help him build back patio out flat river rocks that we dug out of an actual river. He generally can do any kind of necessary home repair, usually in the same calendar week that he starts it.

Clearly, these skills were not passed down to me. It usually costs more to fix my improvements in the long run, but I sometimes feel good about myself, despite my wife’s deflated reaction to the completed project.

Our house was built a while ago. I’m not saying it looks dated, but it is clearly time to replace the disco ball in the foyer, as well as to retire my white leisure suit.

We’ve been here since 1999, and the day the realtor showed us the house I knew I hated the color of the kitchen cabinets, the fireplace hearth and the banister in the foyer. She assured us it would be easy enough to change, and, now, just a short 15 years later, we are finally doing something about it.

We are having professionals do most of the work of re-facing the cabinets and replacing the counters in our rather large kitchen. We have this hulking centerpiece in the middle of it that is too big to call an island. It is a full-sized continent, our version of Australia floating around in Oceania where we wash dishes, make pancakes and inevitably cover with too much junk. We know it’s too much when the red lasers come out of the matriarch’s eyes.

A bathroom straight from 1992.
I wrote three books and hundreds of stories on that kitchen counter, so I would have quite an emotional attachment to it if it weren’t so ugly, so dated and so susceptible to Kool-Aid stains. It’s time to make some changes. We ordered darker cabinets, some quartz countertops and new light fixtures. We didn’t think too much about the powder room until I realized the stuff in there would no longer match the new stuff in the adjacent room.

When I told my wife I was going redo the bathroom while getting the kitchen ready for its remodel, she looked deeply into my eyes and said lovingly, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

In her defense, she’s seen all my previous do-it-yourself projects.

In our first house, we tried to strip the dated wallpaper out of the dining room. The paper came off, along with large chunks of drywall from the unprimed walls. It took us longer to patch the holes and put in new ugly wallpaper than we actually lived in the house (about four months).

Once, when she was out of town on a business trip, I decided to surprise her by taking out the wallpaper in the guest bathroom and paint it a lovely color I knew she would like. For an entire weekend, I took everything out of the bathroom, chipped away at walls and primed, sanded and painted the walls. I took off the toilet tank to get all the paper off the wall behind it.

When I tried to reinstall it, I tightened it too much, broke the ceramic tank and bowl and flooded the kitchen below. I installed a fancy new toilet that bragged it could dispose of 23 golf balls in one flush – something I never knew was necessary.

The long-awaited retaining wall.
It took longer than expected, and I needed the help of a plumber, a neighbor and a veterinarian, but when my wife got back from her trip, it was all done. Instead of the hug I expected, she mentioned, rather excitedly, that the peach-colored paint was a little too peachy. It was like taking a bath inside the water tower in Gaffney, S.C.

So, I started over, this time not worrying too much about the wall behind the toilet tank.

I once built a retaining wall in our backyard that helped stem the flow of runoff from the neighbors, and it only took two years. In the grand scheme of things, I thought that was timely.

There have been some successes. I installed some permanent bookshelves in the upstairs office. I built a shed for the backyard that is still standing, if not completely water-tight. Last year about this time, I stripped the deck and recovered it with a special deck paint. It was empowering.

Three non-matching bulbs is a nice touch.
For the last week, I’ve been removing the outdated brass fixtures and counters, stripping wallpaper and patching walls in preparation for repainting the bathroom. I’ve successfully replaced the light, but that’s about it. Right now, I sanding the walls, something that will eventually land me with a state-provided room in Butner.

I’m to the point I will do anything to get out of working in that room. Clean the garage. Cut the grass. Write a blog. Spend time with the children.

I have to soldier on, though. The new kitchen counters arrive next week. The new cabinets get here in two.

And my wife just volunteered to host our supper club in the next month or so. I just hope no one brings crab dip.