Thursday, September 13, 2007

Home Improvement

Now you might think we would never schedule major home renovation/remodeling work at a time like this, when we are so preoccupied with our health issues. Well, if so, you would be wrong... (Some might argue that this constitutes the clearest evidence to date that I did suffer some damage to the "common sense" center of the brain.)

Actually, I had already made appointments with contractors to get estimates for several different jobs even before our Africa trip. Our old (1913) Craftsman-style house has long been in need of some work, because, well, things simply deteriorate over time. We love living in an older house with character and individuality, but we recognize the price we have to pay for that is the various maladies that come with old age. (Old houses are like old people in some ways...)

White-painted fireplace with part of the paint removed to reveal the original fired ceramic bricks. How do you get all of the white paint off?

Of course, our house, like most older homes, has undergone many different renovations/updates over the years. Some we regard as quite successful: upgrading the wiring, adding forced-air ventilation, modernizng the kitchen and kitchen appliances, etc. But others were less successful, including adding shag carpeting (in the 70's?), painting the living room all white (with the wrong types of paint), etc. Some of our current work consists of undoing the effects of previous "improvements"...

That havng been said, there are certainly limits to how much we want to restore an "authentic Craftsman look". After all, this is not a museum, but a home where a family lives. And our aesthetic tastes include many post-Craftsman "modern" components: jazz, rock and roll, abstract painting, etc. So what we are looking for is something that is Craftsman-inspired, but also informed by modern sensibilities. This is in fact what most magazines and books that have articles about Craftsman house renovation actually present: Someone from the original Craftsman era would be puzzled to find slabs of polished granite in kitchens, pale pastel walls everywhere, litttle boxes called "outlets" in every room that the residents "plug" various contraptions into to make them "come alive", little grilles that blow cold air in the summer and hot air in the winter, etc. And yet, I have no problem with any of these!

For a few years, when the kids were very small, we simply lived with things as they were. It was actually convenient to have old carpeting on the floors when they were toddlers, since we were much less concerned with spills than if we had a floor covering that we actually liked and planned to keep long-term. And falls were softer onto shag carpeting than onto wood...

But once the kids were past the toddler stage, we decided to take up the 70's shag carpeting, and expose the original wood floors. Unfortunately, the wood was in poor condition in many areas, with the result that a new wood floor had to be laid in the living room. In other areas, however, the original floors were fine, although even in these rooms it was necessary to sand the floor back to bare wood, and re-apply the finish.

By the time the floor work was finished, the oak (original or not) floors looked great, but our checking account balance did not, and our patience for further disruption of our lives had worn thin. So we decided to stop for a while. A "while" turned out to be "until the summer of 2007" - a break of about 7 years.

Why now? Well, why not now? I knew I would be spending much more time at home, and the thought of looking at the pink stairwell day after day I found annoying. Upgrading the interior would actually be therapeutic... Also, the kids had complained for years that there was nowhere to play in our "small" yard. So I decided it was high time to give them a more open yard, with more lawn (less deck), and more driveway for skateboarding, skating, etc. (no brick).

So that brings us to where we are today. We first signed a contract for the outdoor (deck, yard, etc.) work. We chose Mr. Handyman for this work (specifically their Pasadena office, run by Jaime R.). We like the work of Jaime and his crews a lot: it is high quality, fairly-priced, and done with open communication with us at every step of the way. For those of you who are local Pasadenans, I recommend Mr. Handyman most highly to you!

To be continued...