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Around the bend: Renovation not always constructive

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Posted on December 2, 2010 | Blog Category:
By Jessie Raymond



If you stopped by my house Thanksgiving Day, you might have noticed something unusual about our living room. That morning, we turned the furniture around backward, facing a corner that currently features a weight bench, an abandoned cat toy and a few dust bunnies.

It’s not a protest against TV. It’s just a test run for our future living/family room (one and the same in our house). We’re trying to determine where the large flat-screen TV should go when we remodel the room. We don’t actually own a large flat-screen TV but that’s fine, because we aren’t going to remodel for a couple of years anyway.

Moving the furniture was merely an academic exercise (a real exercise, too, given how heavy our couch is), but one with a purpose: It takes my husband, Mark, and me ages to hammer out the details of any project we undertake. We argue over what kind of flooring to lay, where to place the windows, whether I’m too cheap to let him do a decent job, whether he’s an insensitive dolt with no decorating style — you know, the usual home reno stuff.

Mark is an accomplished builder. But I have my doubts about his ability to be practical. He considers it a personal failing that I want closets, for example, which he says I wouldn’t need if I didn’t have so much junk. Instead of concentrating on creating a functional place to live, he gets caught up in a vision of the imaginary perfect family we will become when we have a perfect house.

His sketches invariably include a nook for the Christmas tree with plenty of room for an electric train and, I assume, caroling. That means a fireplace, too, for the stocking hanging.
But when I mention how I’d like a large kitchen to accommodate all the cooking and baking I do, he barely looks up from his drawings.

“The kitchen doesn’t need to be anything special,” he says. “Here, let me show you where the train set will go.”

The negotiations often escalate like an international conflict, complete with one or both parties storming out of talks and occasionally threatening nuclear annihilation (it’s OK, we’re bluffing). And for all that, sometimes the plans get scrapped when the actual work begins anyway.

So why bother?

To be honest, planning is our way of filling the void of being in a non-renovation mode. Until recently, our homes have always been in the midst of some sort of construction. We’re unaccustomed to living in a space free of a healthy layer of sheetrock dust.

In our experience, a happy home is one littered with power tools, sawhorses and paint swatches, where sometimes you have to wash dishes in the bathtub and remove plastic sheeting to get through a doorway. Nothing says love like the aroma of freshly cut 2-by-4s.

Since we can’t swing any major projects right now, we’re doing the next best thing:
pretending work is on the horizon.

Fantasy remodeling has its advantages. It isn’t constrained by a budget, so you can figure for marble countertops and a silent Scandinavian dishwasher and servants’ quarters if you like.

Also, you can change your mind. For instance, six months ago, I had the crazy — but, let’s face it, inspired — idea to put a revolving door in the kitchen, to save on letting the cat in and out.

As time passed, I changed my mind. I knew the cat would still meow at the door, just for the satisfaction of making us get up every 15 minutes.

And last, the longer it takes to get to some real work on the house, the better the odds are of technological advances in home design. By the time we put down a new kitchen floor, I expect it to be self-cleaning.

I can’t lie: We wouldn’t mind some real-life updating around here. But for now, we’ll have to get by with our imagination.

I feel bad for Mark, though.

Lately, he sighs a lot whenever we sit in the living room. The poor man is no doubt lamenting the arrival of yet another holiday season without a Christmas tree nook.

Or it could be the chronic stiff neck he’s developed from watching TV over his shoulder. We really need to put the furniture back where it was.

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