One Thing Leads to Another: The Curse of Renovations

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, long before HGTV and the utter ubiquity of home and design shows, makeovers were relegated to daytime talk shows. Oprah or Sally Jesse or Ricki would host a group of guests who were sartorially challenged or stuck in the past. They’d bring the guests out and hear their tales of wardrobe woe for the first half of the show and then usher them offstage so that a team of stylists could transform them. In the final minutes of the episode the hosts would welcome their newly dapper guests back to the stage with some sort of flourish – standing next to a split screen of a “before” photo or breaking through a big printed copy of their old look a la a football player. The audiences would cheer and whistle and the guests would announce their happiness in their newfound beauty. But then what happened when the guests got home?

Even as a kid watching these shows, I used to think about how the lucky ladies and gents who walked away from the makeovers must have felt when they got home. When they took their new outfits out of the wardrobe bags and hung them next to their own clothes, it surely must have made everything look old, tattered and out of style. I can imagine them saying, “Well, I can never wear those again!” as they swept their hands across the contents of their closets. They might even look around their entire home and say, “I never knew this place looked so awful!” It wasn’t until they saw how good they good look that they recognized how bad everything was.

Renovating an old house is a lot like that. Every time one project is finished it makes it glaringly obvious that the old things around it are going to need some work too.

Sure, finishing a project like tiling the backsplash or stripping the painted fireplace can feel like a monumental achievement. But that sense of accomplishment is short lived. I’ll stand back and survey my handiwork, straining all the while to pat myself on the back, and be filled with a sense of pride in a job (usually pretty well) done. And then my attention will almost immediately dart to something adjacent to the finished project that is now begging for attention.

When we finished the fireplace, for instance, I noted the tile that needed to be replaced and the trim that needed repainting and the built-ins that needed to be replaced. As happy as I was that the fireplace project was finished, it merely opened the door to the projects around the corner.

And so it goes with the kitchen backsplash. Now that the tile is up and the grout is in, I’m noticing all the little things that need to be updated in order to really finish the kitchen. It started with the window. With the cabinets painted and the backsplash installed, it’s now glaringly obvious that the window needs a new finish. When the cabinets were old, dark and beat up and the wall was in no better shape, the window above the kitchen sink looked fine. But now that everything else is looking so polished, the window appears shabby.

As an act of pure torture, er, I mean planning, I sat down and made a list of all the little loose ends that need to be tied up in the kitchen.

  • Refinish the window
  • Install new flooring
  • Install wood trim around tile
  • Replace faucet
  • Replace outlets, switches and plates
  • Paint remaining walls
  • Replace toe kick
  • Install under cabinet lighting

Some of this stuff I knew would require repair or replacement in advance of the kitchen project. For instance, I knew that I’d want to replace the flooring and faucet before even one dab of paint was applied to the cabinets. Others didn’t make themselves apparent until just this past weekend. The outlets and switches, for example. They’re in fine working order and their off white color seemed just fine when the walls were painted. Now that wall is covered in white subway tile, however, the off white outlets stand out in a displeasing way. It’s never ending, I tell you!

Considering this growing list of projects for this one room, I should have the whole house in tip top shape sometime around 2030.

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