Pardon My Dust: Down-and-Dirty Remodeling

Home makeovers provide a sense of hope and expectation—a fresh start.

I like projects. I’m never happier than when some transformation or other is taking place in the house. My mother would complain when window-cleaners worked around her—“there’s goin’s-on here”—the activity disrupting her concentration on whatever yeast-dough masterpiece she was creating at the time. I did not inherit that gene and like “goin’s-on.” The more trucks in the driveway, the happier I am. If somebody’s out there with a table saw, slicing up wood or marble slabs, I’m overjoyed.

Luckily, we live in a 22-year-old house that’s showing some wear—thus my rationale for home improvement. My husband does not agree with this philosophy, given that these projects are not free. I swear, he wouldn’t care if the foundation gave way and the whole house sank into the clay soil. He’d just say we wouldn’t have to worry about the basement anymore.

Amidst some disagreement, I first hatched a kitchen update that resulted in new stainless-steel appliances, a refinished floor, and the granite countertops I had coveted for a decade. Never mind that we were forced to eat breakfast in the bathroom, and construction dust somehow found its way between the pages of books on nearby shelves. Soon I was on to the family room, deciding that we needed a larger flat-screen TV (who doesn’t?). The video equipment led to matching curved sofas that turned out too large for the room, requiring us to climb over the furniture just to get out of the door. One sofa now sits in a storeroom, the other in my son’s house, where it makes a fine trampoline for his 3-year-old son.

However, with the help of a visionary interior designer, I did turn a kid room into guest quarters that could pass for a suite at a luxury hotel. I love the upholstered king-size bed and the grown-up khaki-and-navy color scheme, and I’ve pretty much gotten over the time my son’s dog confused the room with the pound and dug through the carpet trying to escape.

My other son’s former domain, thanks to the help of the decorator, is now an adorable grandbaby room, complete with a handed-down crib, a white trundle bed, and a wee side table holding a tea set that has proven a huge hit with our granddaughters. When retirement necessitated a full-on home office, I got a repositioned desk, new sofa and lamps, and the trusty office chair from my previous workplace (sniff).

I find the first stage of a remodel much like surgery, in that once you agree, there is no time to second-guess.

Then I was at it again, this time attacking our master bathroom. The shower floor was, well, gross, and the caulking around the drop-in sinks crumbled and discolored. A whirlpool tub sat up on a platform, not practical once you hit 60. The shower worked fine, although when the handheld spigot broke, we installed another showerhead to fill the hole, which looked pretty funny. In fact, there were three showerheads in the small stall. The builder must’ve thought the original two would be sexy, but let’s just say it didn’t turn out that way.

Once again in defiance of my fiscally responsible husband, renovation got under way. The contractor began with a vengeance, taping butcher paper to the floors and hanging plastic sheeting over the cabinets and doorways. I find the first stage of a remodel much like surgery, in that once you agree, there is no time to second-guess. One minute you say okay, and the next you’re flat on a gurney counting to 100. Whatever your reservations, it’s too late now.

Demolition appears macho and cool on TV, but when the dismantling occurs in your house it’s downright scary, with sledgehammers plowing into walls and chalky dust flying as far as three rooms away. It looked like a coal-mine explosion, and, despite my continued enthusiasm, I worried my nighttime cough might be black-lung disease. Because the only access to the closet is via the bathroom, we shimmied through the narrow passageway whenever permitted, retrieving clothes. My husband saw this as a hassle, while I rather enjoyed the fashion challenge. Who cared if I was down to a navy sweater and brown pants? A new bathroom was in the works!

With the toilet and sinks stored in the garage, I camped out in the kids’ former bathroom upstairs, and my husband headed to the bath in the lower level. (Men, I have decided, are like bats; they like dark, damp places.) I wouldn’t have called running up and down stairs 20 times a day ideal, but the trudge was as good an excuse as any to cancel my normal workout.

I got to know the laborers pretty well during the six-week renovation and only groused three times: when I discovered Ramen noodles dried onto the kitchen sink; when the team stayed till 11 p.m., even after I commanded, “What part of ‘get the hell out’ don’t you understand?”; and when one guy brought his kid, who yanked the powder-room shutter completely off of the window. “This is my home,” I proclaimed huffily, not a soup kitchen or daycare center.

All said and done, the bathroom is gorgeous. The new tub sits on the floor where any self-respecting tub belongs, and the under-mount sinks are unsullied by grungy grout. The counters gleam, the marble veining mesmerizes, and the framed mirrors put their wall-to-wall, plate-glass predecessors to shame. Home makeovers provide a sense of hope and expectation—a fresh start.

So, what’s next? The wicker furniture on the screened porch looked good once, but that was before my old cat, Scooter, inflicted with blindness, mistook the chair legs for scratching posts. I’d also like to replace the wood floors, which squeak so loudly we could hold a murder-mystery party. Just the thought of revamped decor sends me into a state of wild ecstasy.

Well, as ecstatic as a person with only one showerhead can get.

Illustration by Andrea Eberbach

This article appeared in the September 2013 issue.