Thursday, December 31, 2009

And the color is (drum roll...)

...Indigo Batik from Sherwin-Williams.

It makes me swoon.

A friend agrees, saying it's a good color for a South Carolina home. And, "it's got enough juju to scare away the haints."

Fine by me.

And, drum roll.... This is part of the north side of my house. Shot during the Southern Great Storm of 2010, which blew 8 inches through South Carolina in one day. (And melted in 36 hours). I peeked inside a wall inside my laundry room, which has the original siding in older colors, and found that this dark blue might have been the original color of the house. Good color karma.

i likee.

Friday, December 18, 2009

House color help!

Looking for a good dark gray -- a saturated color that still is warm....for the exterior of my house. Want to mimic those beautiful Portland, Ore. arts and crafts homes.

I have a gray now, with darker trim, but want to change to white trim.

I used a color application to mimic one of these colors -- this is Olympic Range from Sherwin-Willliams, sloppily on the left, with white trim.

Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I'm tidying up, clearing some space, taking out the garbage. It's a big day, and I want to make a good impression.

The plumbers are coming tomorrow to install a new faucet and kitchen sink.

Why am I so concerned with what these contractors think? After all, I pay them to do work.

Maybe it's that little hint of smug superiority when someone discovers that my big problem has an easy solution.

The heating guy was all full of himself ("This is a story I'm going to tell the guys in the office," he said, with a slight swagger in his voice) when he found out my programmable thermometer was wired wrong, triggering the heat AND the air conditioning, freezing me out of my home for THREE SEASONS.

Last week, another plumber pulled out a teeny black washer from my bathroom faucet and declared it fixed. Months ago, I dutifully replaced a cartridge (see "Drop by drop, draining" blog entry, if you care) but left an extra washer in the handle. It didn't take him five minutes.

I'm all grateful and that after a problem -- like the heating -- is fixed, but it reminds me that this home improvement thing is a lot more overwhelming, and I need a lot more help. And money to pay for the help.

UPDATE: Post-plumbing. "That sink don't fit." My bargain sink is going back, and an expensive one will take its place. Damn you, superior beings!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

All you need is love

Am I in love with my house, or am I holding back real emotional attachment until the house is all fixed up? Why can't I just love it the way it is? Why is home improvement like falling in love?

Let's not turn this in a "Sex and the City" episode.

We've been experiencing incredible weather, for November and for the South. So I've been unfurling my hammock and chillin' in the back yard.

From the hammock, I get to see the back of my house from a new perspective. It's still not repainted (although I've made headway on prep work on the north side) but it looks a bit lovely in the fading fall afternoon light. My garden is bursting with beauty, almost as it was taking one deep, final breath before exhaling for winter.

And for a few hours, I can let go of my inner to-do list -- remodel my bathroom on a budget, get a driveway done, or, now that my heating is fixed, finish installing storm windows.

It's like I've been dating for four years, but think: he might not be The One -- If only he would just dress up more, drive a little better car, or not laugh so loud.

Instead, I start thinking that way about myself. I'm Bridget Jones, often dumbstruck that someone would want me -- My life is beginning to show its age, and work is getting worse.

Love this house the way it is? Every project -- completed -- makes me feel a little more comfortable about being proud of this house. Maybe I really want this house to love me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dear Ms. Home Improvement Manners

I am scraping the first part of the exterior of the house, and I just realized how loud and annoying it is.

Am I bothering the neighbors? Did you ever think all your home improvement activities were the equivalent of putting a car up on blocks in the front yard? I'm beginning to suspect so.

The scraping reverberates between my house and next door. I try to do it on late Friday morning, when I suspect no one is home. I spend about an hour scraping before I get tired, and by then someone has come home.

I'm also self-conscious about leafblowing. I bought an electric leafblower, and at least it's a little less loud. I don't use it until after noon on weekends -- I live around a lot of younger people and they don't even emerge from their homes until noon.

What do you do to mind your manners?

Friday, October 16, 2009

From fixer upper to historic

When does an old home transition from vintage to historic?

I pondered that as I learned the neighborhood association is chronicling a history of the older homes, and mine is among them.

My house was built in 1939. It sat in the middle of bunch of farmland owned by the same family that built my house. My neighbor, who is 95 years old, is the original owner of the house. I learned my house had a tin roof.

So, for the first time, I told someone I lived in an historic home. And I closely examined whether I was restoring it or rehabbing it. I'm not tearing down any walls, nor messing with the floors or the layout. I added a railing on the front porch, which takes a bit away from its Lowcountry charm. But the roof lines are more cottage/arts and crafts anyway.

I live in an historic home. How about that?

It has been..

Fifteen days since I've been to a home improvement store. The last time was to buy products for a photo shoot; I went to a conference, then had a week's furlough, which I spent at the beach.

Fall to me is cuddling time. That means switching from DIY mode to "buy fall clothes" mode. And, boy, have I. I headed to a department store the other day to check out a sale on boots, and the store was crowded. I had to wait in line to buy my boots; I laughed when the clerk apologized. "I don't care. I can't believe there's a line. The recession's over. Wo-hoo! Let's all buy shoes."

I'm not abandoning my house makeover. This weekend, I start planning to paint the exterior of my house. My first task is to head to a real paint store and get some samples -- and some decent advice. I want to paint the house a darker gray, with a hint of brown, to make it look like those beautiful arts and crafts homes in Portland, Oregon.

But before that -- prep. Pressure washing a 1939 home might mean trouble. I might sand a few areas, but the wood's so old I'm afraid it might break off.

Any suggestions on good prep? Should I try to master a sprayer, of will a good ole paintbrush work instead?

Monday, September 21, 2009

The sitcom moment

So, after Will spends all that time installing a new light fixture, he uses the sink, then says...

How come your hot water doesn't work?

Don't go there, Will. Just don't go there.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

That 'Big Chill' moment

When Kevin Kline, good guy husband, agrees to be a sperm donor for single gal Mary Kay Place, I think of all the husbands I've enlisted to help with a project or two.

Dave helped my brother and I with a railing on the front porch. Aaron connected my first propane tank in the gas grill (he noted that I was "such a girl"). My brother-in-law dutifully showed me how to change out an outlet. Johnny saved me from crown molding hell and a couple of other disasters.

Will was the latest recruit -- he helped me switch out a light fixture in the bathroom. I don't like to touch electricity.

"For you, it'll be a 10-minute job," I joked.

Ten minutes later, Will is on his way to Lowe's. He comes back with washers and toggle bolts.
"In a modern house," he drolly begins, "you would have a junction box here. But this isn't a modern house." Instead there are two woolly wires sticking out of the wall.

The bracket for the light fixture is designed to be affixed to a junction box. Will got the washers to float the screws from the bracket to the fixture, and the toggle bolts secured the breaker. Very MacGyver.

Three hours later, with light fading, we get it done.

Another husband, spent.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bathroom tweaking

This is the "before" photo of my skinny bathroom.

It's what local folks call a "Shandon bathroom," after the neighborhood where most of these 1930s homes were built. I grew up in a Chicago flat, then a small bungalow in which the sole bathroom was not much bigger.

I'm tweaking it -- replacing the floor tile, patching and painting the walls, and changing the palette to gray from yellow. I frosted the bottom half of the window, which I think is a genius idea.

I'd rather be shifting the sink, toilet and tub around, adding a heated floor, new drywall (and insulation!) and adding a bit of square footage with a pocket door.

I gotta wait until next spring, when my tax money comes in and I'm on a little better financial footing. So, for now, tweaking.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Peeling back the layers

I like to peel things: I used to cover my palm in Elmer's glue, wait for it to dry, then peel it off. I love contact paper, and that protective plastic on electronic equipment.

So, when I saw a tiny flake on an obscure bit of wall in a bedroom, I couldn't resist. I start to peel it back -- the paint came off, and under it, some wallpaper. Peel away I did, and found myself baring an early form of drywall. Peel on a corner, and another wall is exposed.

I spent days just peeling away, revealing layers of paint, green, red and, maybe, a blue.

Scribbled on one of those bare wells, the name Jenny. Written large with a flourish, as if a young girl were declaring herself to the world.


The name belongs to the daughter of the original owners, the O'Cains. Mrs. O'Cain now lives next door, and she's 95. Her daughter Jenny comes by every day to check on her mom, who broke her hip last year and can't walk around without a bit of help.

Jenny and her mother call my place "The old house." Jenny doesn't remember writing her name. But that mark became a part of the house, revealing itself about 40 years later.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How long has this been going on?

I'm wondering, how long can a project remain unfinished?

One friend is on Year Four of a bathroom, another is halfway done after a couple of months. I'm on Month Three of the lattice fiasco, but I attribute my lack of progress on the heat. It was kinda dumb to do something outdoors this time of year.

On one segment of a DIY show, the homeowner revealed she had gone a year without a kitchen.

I've decided on a Plan B for the bathroom -- an updated floor, paint and some new towels -- and it's been about three weeks. I expect to be done by the end of this weekend. I need some framing work, but, wisely, I will leave that to someone else.

And then, I rest. Until fall, when I begin --- THE GREAT paint project. I'm going to paint the exterior of my house.

There will be photos.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I want your blood -- and some nails

Catching up with episodes of "True Blood." Bill the vampire can't get an electrician to come out. Join the club. Dead for more than a century, and he still wants to re-do a house.

I'm doomed.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Drop by drop, draining

Not one, but two faucets leak now. The first started in the bathroom sink about a year ago. Now there's one in the kitchen sink. The reason they're still leaking explains how I approach home improvement.

Stage 1: Confidence rules. Ah, I've seen how these get fixed; you turn off the water (that I never mess up) then slowly deconstruct the faucet, checking each piece to make sure it's not cracked. Then I reassemble it, tightening nuts and whatnots.

Drip, drip, drip.

Stage 2: Vulcan-like logic sets in. I'm at Lowe's, and I see a replacement kit. Voila! The next day, I'm carefully taking apart the faucet. I pop it in my purse, and, the next time I'm at Lowe's, I find one that matches and bring it home. It's all good, until I'm buttoning up the last cap.

Drip, drip, drip.

Stage 3: Regroup. Maybe there's something else. I check under the sink. Can't get under there to tighten anything. I try replacing the aforementioned part again. Aha, I discover a new step. I've conquered it, finally!

Drip, drip, drip.

Stage 4: I give up. I'll wait until I'm remodeling my bathroom to get it fixed. Until then, I've turned off the hot water. No drip, drip, drip.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Green needs green

When will environmentally friendly products be friendly on the pocketbook?

I was editing a fine story about "green" products, including solar panels, sustainable building materials, etc. But even federal and state tax credits make it very hard for anyone to afford. Like electric cars, demand will lower prices, but there's not enough demand because no one can afford them.

And there's a little hypocrisy in touting green renovations. A truly green one does as little renovating as possible. Dumping your kitchen cabinets in a landfill for ones with bamboo fronts is hardly green.

That said, I would looooove a recycled glass tiled bathroom.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

House Hunters International did Buenos Aires, then Uruguay -- a reminder of luv guv's travels?

Plan A vs. Plan B

My air conditioner sucked away $1,200 from my bathroom renovation fund last week. Sucked away in replacing a blower, a fan and a compressor. I'm not convinced the initial visit by the A/C guy didn't cause the problems that led to the second visit, but I'll deal with that soon.

What I'm most distressed about is that another Plan A in my life is becoming more elusive. Plan A involved a budget to rearrange the sink, toilet and bathtub so the space would be used better. To replace a creaky, rotted wood window with glass blocks, to have a small vanity made to fit the space and maximize storage. To add a heated tile floor and a fan.

I'm $1,200 further from that goal now. And I just learned I have to take a week of furlough, another chunk of change sucked away. And I took a pay cut in the spring.

"Why can't you just do something different?" counseled my friend last week.

"No, that's Plan B," I said. "I want a Plan A in my life."

I have lived my life settling for Plan Bs, and just once, I want to do a Plan A. I've never been married (no big wedding, and even so, my family was too poor to even finance anything). I waited until I was 45 to buy a house, and spent three years saving the money for a down payment. I've settled for used furniture, stuff off the street and IKEA (the novelty wears off quick). Nor do I have a dress that cost more than $45.

If my job goes away -- I'm in the newspaper business -- I'll be dead broke again. My retirement is looking more and more like another Plan B.

Usually, I do not respond to a financial setback like a plucky Briton in World War II. I get mad, and try to do something -- buy something -- that might make me feel like a Plan A person again. And that just defeats the purpose of it all.

So I'm trying to hang on. Forget that my friends, my family, live in nice houses with sidewalks and mature plantings and insulated walls and garages. Remember that I'm in one of the most challenging times of my industry, my economy.

And thinking of a way to salvage Plan A.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reality of reality TV home improvement

I must give props to the folks who produced the "HGTV $250,000 Challenge," a limited series that finished up Sunday,

It was a show I taped, since I work Sunday nights. You NEVER have to tape any HGTV programs, because they are on endlessly. I can name that "Designed to Sell" ep like others can name that "Law & Order" episode by the time they hear the "pppummm, pum."

The show pitted five families in one Southern Californian neighborhood, giving them money, little time but a lot of carpentry help to rehab one room at a time.

A panel of judges (HGTV stars, pimping for the network) would eliminate one family at a time. The winning duo would win the prize, while getting four rooms renovated.

There were tears, missteps, and numerous trips to Home Depot. It was as close to real home improvement gets on cable television.

It was comforting to see couples lost in what to do -- one almost had a breakdown picking furniture, another had five different colors of paint, and still couldn't decide. 

I watch most of these other damned shows, absorbing their tips and tricks like Republicans digest common talking points. But my reality is tears, missteps and numerous trips to Lowe's. the "Challenge" series was a change of pace.

Nice to know I'm not alone.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

It has been 1 day(s) since I've been to lowe's.

june 21, 2009: I have dirt in my hair

I have dirt in my hair. Not dirty hair. Pieces of dirt in my hair. Bits I can feel as I pull my hand through the crown to straighten my pony tail.

I've been under my deck, screwing in lattice panels. I've been at this for weeks, thinking about how to install it, looking at You Tube videos, buying and returning and buying supplies.

And I thought I had come up with a plan to join the lattice, finish the ends, install a removable panel and make my tired deck look more finished. The first panel is on, but it's in the same shape as anything I try to do in my house: a little off, a little sloppy, and a lot undone.

Next month, I will have owned this house -- a 1938 wooden bungalow in the South -- for four years. It was an unloved beauty when I bought it. It now has a flagstone patio, three side gardens, a railing on the front porch, crown molding, a rehabbed kitchen. A healthy list of home improvements, but this home is far from finished. 

It's not the house -- it's me. I can't stop thinking that if I did this or that, it would finally begin to look like one of those houses I see on HGTV. Maybe then I would feel finished, a fully formed adult. Instead, I look at this cockeyed lattice, and still feel a little off, a little sloppy and a lot undone.

I have to go wash my hair now.