Tuesday, September 23, 2014

other things I have been up to

I am behind on blogging - I have a bunch of half-formed things I've been meaning to write about.  And I have made the probably lunatic decision that I'd like to participate in the "31 days" challenge again this year, so that will only get worse, perhaps. 

I have decided my topic will be "comfort food" even though that probably has been done in the past and actually someone else may be doing it this year (I have no idea who's doing what yet).  I know, I'm not a food blogger - it would be fair even to be skeptical that I can cook.  (I can.)  But please note that I am not doing "31 days of gourmet," OK?  Know thyself. 

I have to do a post eventually on the third bedroom re-redo.  But right now my sister is living there, so I can't easily shove everything around and decide what still needs to be tweaked, because there is her stuff and an extra bookshelf and oh also a human being in there.  But I will get on that eventually.  Maybe I will post my adorable stool tutorial (with very important "learn from my mistakes" lessons) before I get the room finished. 

Also I left a teaser regarding the HSN item I purchased (possibly I had not even purchased it yet when I posted that video).  That project has moved considerably further along and I owe you all some more "learn from my mistakes" tips, photos of the finished product, realistic assessments of how much time it takes to use the concrete form, an update on my plans for redoing the 900SF paved area, and what I decided to use the form for instead (that's kind of a spoiler alert, if people were likely to have any idea what I am talking about).  But I'm not going to explain any of these things now.  Maybe later.  Possibly by then I will actually be finished with all related projects. 

I did a mini-redo of my bedroom (many hours of work to look almost exactly the same but better.  A specific example: I ripped all the wallpaper off my feature wall because it was irreparably damaged, redid the entire wall using a stencil with a similar pattern and paint in a similar-but-not-the-same color, and tweaked several other things, and my DH came home [of course I did this in a week when he was away], squinted at the wall, and said, "Did you get a new headboard?"  I didn't).  That sounds like a totally pointless task - something I might have taken on without realizing how much work it would be for how little result - but this is not so.  I knew how much work it would be and how subtle the changes would be and I am delighted with the results.  (I would like to note here that I spent almost nothing - $30 for a stencil I can use again, $15 for a second Ikea sconce, and maybe $2 for some wall anchors.)  I needed to get the room to correct rather than kludged and now I think it's there.  I mean, maybe I still need new sheets and of course I swept four times and there are still dust bunnies the size of badgers, but whatever.  I actually have pictures of this process (yes!  I took before and during pictures!) but I am not sharing them now either because. 

These paragraphs seem to have been getting longer and they were not supposed to. 

Finally: some friends just got an offer accepted on a house in our neighborhood (well - in the really nice historic neighborhood on the other side of the tracks from our much more modest historic neighborhood).  They bought a home that is architecturally stunning but a fixer.  It may have some serious problems (I have been kindly invited to attend the inspection tomorrow during my lunch, and you can bet that I will be there with a tape measure and a camera - I haven't gotten to see the inside of it in person yet, but I have stared at the kitchen photos online until I could draw the floor plan from memory, including what I suspect are pretty accurate estimated measurements.  But I have not told them this because they might be frightened). 

I am going to let the inspector sort out whether the wiring, plumbing, or joists need to be repaired or replaced (though I will watch him with a skeptical eye, as I wish another old-house owner would have done for me during my inspection), but I have already - as above noted - focused like a laser on their kitchen.  Let me just say that it makes my original kitchen - the 1970s monstrosity we started with - look updated, attractive, and well laid out.  I truly did not think that was possible.  I honestly don't know how they saw beyond that, since most people cannot - although the turret and the wrap-around porch may have had something to do with it.  I am guessing, given what I know of their temperaments and what I have observed about the kitchen, that they are in utter denial and have simply chosen to think of the space as "something we'll fix up," hand-waving away the expensiveness of kitchens and also the necessity of having a kitchen to use before (and during) a kitchen renovation.  With four children.  Ahem. 

This, I feel, is where I come in.  They sent my DH a text message last week saying, "Tell [the misfit] to get ready for some renovations," and a suggestion that Napoleon prepare himself for a bit of sightseeing could not have been more dangerously miscalculated.  I have already picked out tile for their backsplash (don't make that face.  I am planning to propose two options!).  My husband has gotten some inkling of what I have in mind (of course I haven't told him about the tile), and is visibly alarmed.  I have only two friends who have not (at least briefly) discontinued speaking to me after they casually asked whether I might like to help them shop for something house-related and I did.  He is concerned that they might actually get a restraining order, which would be inconvenient since they will only live a mile away. 

I look at it like this.  For whatever reason they have chosen to buy a house that is both a fixer-upper and at the top of their budget, thus violating the First and Third Commandments of Shopping for Houses (the first is that you always buy less than you can afford).  My familiarity with the local real estate market suggests to me that unless there is a sinkhole in the basement they are getting a good value for money and I hope I am right, but that is cold comfort if you are house-poor, especially if you are house-poor and need to gut your kitchen.  They have some good connections to tradespeople and they have good taste (with which I have carefully familiarized myself over the years - thus my confidence in the tile selection), but they have not renovated a kitchen before and they don't know what they're getting into, nor how to make their budget work as hard for them as possible - and they will need it to. 

So in my view the logic of the thing is simple: even if they didn't want my help, they would need it.  I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the historic-kitchen-appropriate items that may be had in the area - local professional designers know more, but their knowledge focuses on rather more expensive things.  Also, those designers probably don't themselves know how to hang cabinets and restore floors.  I do, and as time permits I will help for free.  My fear is that they will go for white Ikea cabinets, and while these are handsome and not a bad value for new cabinets, you could get lovelier, better-made, and cheaper things at salvage - particularly if you were willing to do an "unfitted" kitchen, which would be appropriate in a house of this age.  But I am trying very hard to be a little amateur designer here (though they haven't asked - yet), and that means helping the people get what they want, not telling them to do what I want them to do.  It turns out that it's really not that difficult to fully realize your own taste in your own home (if you have a bit of money); helping someone else to realize their taste fully is a great deal more challenging.  But several years of an absolutely insatiable appetite for all kitchen-related information has, I think, given me the tools to be a help rather than a hindrance, if they want my help. 

And that's the tricky part.  As I say, they need my help - rarely have I seen a kitchen in which fewer of the existing pieces could be saved or used in any way.  (If I were asked, my advice would be to throw out everything by Christmas except the stove, and give that another year.  And I like to save things.)  Not only are the contents both ugly and poorly made, but the layout is abominable and this obviously is true because the room's architecture (doors, windows, and water and gas lines) is placed almost impossibly for modern kitchen expectations (i.e., 30" stove, 24" dishwasher, full-sized refrigerator, sink - I'm not setting the bar high).  As I said, I can now nearly draw the floor plan exactly.  And I have yet to come up with a way to lay out the existing space optimally (even assuming sink, cabinets, and counters are all replaced).  I suspect something will come to me, but I thought my kitchen was difficult - this one is harder. 

But as I am hinting, I must prepare myself mentally for the possibility that they will not want my help.  I will have to use all my powers to make it clear that they should give no thought to inconveniencing me by asking - without making them feel uncomfortable that I will be overbearing or fail to respect their opinions, budget, or schedule.  This will not be an easy balance to strike.  But even if I do, they may still not want help, or they may want to wait an unacceptable length of time (such as ten minutes) before starting this project.  So I have to be prepared to manage my reaction if this is the case, because they are friends and some would argue that friendship is more important than having a good kitchen.  After much thought, I have arrived at the only possible solution: should they exhibit such unimaginable folly as not to enlist my assistance, while they redo their kitchen in real life, I will redo it on my blog.  I will create a 3D rendering and a budget and a complete design plan and parse out the cost of everything and detail how each and every step should be done, and demonstrate, to my own satisfaction, that I would have done it better. 

Then I will feel OK about it, and also entertain the three people who occasionally read this blog.  But that is only in case I hear the tragic news that they do not want me involved.  Until that day, I shall hold fast to the hope that I can use the fruits of my small obsession in the service of their cause, and work on giving another historic home an appropriate kitchen.  And since it's not my house and I haven't asked them about it, unless they actually do tell me they don't want me involved, I don't think I'll post pictures of their kitchen on the internet. 

Because that would be creepy. 


  1. Hoping these people want your help to renovate their kitchen...and you're right...try not to pay top dollar for a house that requires renos...goodness....unless you are okay with waiting. I watch hou.se hunt.ers and all of those kind of shows and see lots of people get themselves into a "pickle" when they buy homes that need updating and they don't have the cash. Your friends would be wise to ask friends to help them!

  2. If they know you well, I am sure they would want your help. If you lived anywhere near me I would be bugging you about DIY stuff :) I think you should really have your own hgtv show where you show people how to make over historic homes on a budget.