Home Improvement 2011: After


That’s all folks.  Thanks for reading!

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Home Improvement 2011: Flooring

Having painted and devastated two rooms and two hallways, it was finally time to put in the new floors.

Our task here became much more tangible upon receiving shipment of the materials. 

I suppose I knew intellectually that 750 square feet of anything was going to be enormous, but when I signed the bill of lading for this 1,500-pound pallet, I understood for the first time what I had really gotten myself into.

The journey of a thousand boards begins with a single corner…

Basically I did this for a long, long time:

Interestingly, it turns out that if you spend hours on end in this particular posture with tight knee pads on, you compress a nerve in the back of your knee that conveys the signal to lift your foot, which causes your feet to slap heavily on the ground when you walk.  It’s disconcerting, and quite embarrassing in a business setting.  It got better after a couple weeks.

Covering the big expanses was pretty straightforward once I got a rhythm going, but handling the corners and edges involved a lot of time, measurement, circular saw wrangling and ruined boards.

I ran out of my planned vacation time with rather a lot left to do, so work continued into the workweek evenings.

This was really exhausting, but we got there.  Finally, I had to cut some very particular pieces to work around the doorway between the hall and the bedroom.

Next up, the after photos…

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Home Improvement 2011: Demolition

And now for the fun part!  I brought in some extra muscle for this.  For those who haven’t met him, this is my brother Rob.  He’s like me, except extroverted and RIPPED.

So, in addition to his many virtues and charms, he’s a good guy to have around when you have to tear up two hallways of marble.

But first, we had to move everything out of the to-be-demolished rooms.  One of the interesting takeaways from this project was that nearly everything we own can be crammed into our kitchen, provided no space is wasted and you don’t need to get anything from the refrigerator for a week.

OK!  Ready to get started.

Pulling up the carpet was easy, although the amount of dust, dirt and dander flying off that stuff was truly fearsome to contemplate (again, who thought it was a good idea to put an absorbent textile on the floor?).

The marble, by contrast, was a LOT of work to take up.  Basically we did this for an entire day:

We had another, more enjoyable, method involving the sledgehammer and crowbar, but it wasn’t photographed, alas.  We also made an interesting discovery underneath the tile:

Creationism tells us that man and dinosaurs co-existed, but I was unaware that their hides were used as floor covering.

Anyway.  Where was Peach Fuzz during all of this?

She was much displeased.

Finally, I don’t really have a relevant picture, but before moving on, I’d like to say how grossly I underestimated the humble crowbar before doing this project.  Is there anything you can’t destroy completely with a crowbar?  We used ours in like five different ways, and its effectiveness is brutal to the point of elegance.  It’s a truly amazing solution to the problem of non-destroyed stuff.

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Home Improvement 2011: Paint

We decided to do the re-painting first–because that way you can spill as much as you want on the carpet!

Man, is taping ever a pain in the ass.  Do not be fooled by my idiot’s grin.  This is the face of a man who has been taping all day and just completely gone around the bend.

That said, Serena was the real master of this project.

The blue bedroom is definitely an improvement.  The living room and hallways, though, were a different story.  We (ok, I) initially went for this nice, sort of energizing-looking green that looked really nice on the sample card.  Now, the entire Internet, as well as the helpful people at the paint store, will tell you to get a little sample and paint a section of the wall to see how you really feel about it.  I wasn’t interested in any of that.  So I came home with three gallons of what turned out to be this color:

The natural lighting in this photo actually underplays the effect.  We thought maybe it would tone down a bit as it dried, but it was not to be.  The total effect, across a giant wall, is indeed energizing…but in a six pack of red bull kind of way.  So, we went back to the paint store for a nice happy yellow.

Much better!

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Home Improvement 2011: Before

OK!  So, my plan to update on our home renovation project as we progressed was quickly stymied by exhaustion and, then, busy catch-up work weeks.  But here I am to pick up my after-the-fact chronicle.

So here’s what the place looked like when we first bought it in 2005…

The hallway, with the marble and the then-new berber carpet:

The bedroom:

The living room (from the kitchen, with Serena and her mom):

To our 23-year-old selves, this was all pretty sweet.  I mean, we were going to have a dishwasher.  Six years later, though, we had come to feel rather differently.

First of all, it turns out that carpet is a terrible human innovation, at least in a universe characterized by both gravity and beverages.  Here’s a more recent look at that once-nice carpet:

We tired of the marble’s weird greenish pallor rather quickly, and found that it broke up the spaces unnecessarily.

The paint colors, obviously chosen to not offend any prospective buyers, weren’t terribly exciting either.  The kitchen color in particular was oddly devoid of contrast with the cabinets and counter.

It’s not like any of this stuff drove us crazy, but we were definitely ready for a change.

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Home Improvement 2011: Long Overdue

Our home is a one-bedroom highrise unit on Lakeshore Drive in Lakeview (that’s Wrigleyville for out-of-towners).  We’ve always loved the location, and while we don’t have an abundance of space, it’s certainly enough for our needs.  All in all, it has been a good place to be.

But we’ve always kinda hated a lot of the finishes.  The unit was clearly prepped for sale in the hastiest, most generic and generally half-assed way imaginable.  The doors, for instance, were of the $30 hollow pressed-kleenex kind, hacked down asymmetrically to fit our building’s nonstandard frame sizes.  They actually fell off the hinges after one go-round of the Chicago annual humidity cycle.  Replacing those the right way–solid wood, custom size–was my first real home project.

So we’ve had a long list of stuff we want to improve, but for a variety of reasons, have not been able to take on very much of it over the years–until now.

This week, we’re re-painting everything and putting in wood floors throughout.  We’re doing all the work ourselves, with help from my brother Rob.  It’s going to involve four major steps:

  • Painting (Serena already nailed this over the last couple weeks, will update separately with pictures!)
  • Tearing up two rooms of carpet
  • Tearing up marble in the hallways
  • Installing cork underlayment and wood flooring

I’m going to chronicle our work on the blog, because I’m very excited about it and some people find this sort of thing interesting.  Read along, and keep your fingers crossed for us!

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The Bachelor: A Primer

A few years ago, Serena and I got into watching The Bachelor on Monday nights.  It’s one of those ridiculous rituals that most married couples probably have, and I absolutely look forward to it every week.  This is despite the fact that the show itself is just preposterously bad.  We have fun with it.  Over four or five seasons, I’ve become quite the scholar of The Bachelor (and The Bachelorette, they generally alternate).  I have provided, below, a primer for those who would seek to understand this god-awful juggernaut.

Two Hours: Every episode of The Bachelor is unconscionably two hours long.  The nonstop momentum that characterizes well-edited one-hour reality shows like Project Runway and Top Chef is nowhere in evidence, even though tons of interesting, detail-rich stuff happens in those shows and almost nothing happens in an average week on The Bachelor.

Insinuation and Competition: The first great cynical premise of The Bachelor is the idea that if you sprinkle enough rose petals on a bed, if you time a dinner to a sufficiently gorgeous sunset, love will necessarily occur.  The second great cynical premise of The Bachelor is that the competitive environment itself will cause the contestants to convince themselves that the bachelor/ette is desirable and perfect only for them.  Both premises are disastrously true.

Homogeneity: The contestants are chosen, ostensibly, from within the bounds of the 45th and 55th percentiles on all measures of personality and achievement.  There is never a smart one, a dumb one, an artsy one, or a sporty one.  The women are all marketing assistants or hospitality professionals.  The men are all pharmaceutical and insurance sales reps.

Feelings: The only thing contestants are allowed to discuss with the Bachelor/ette is their feelings for him/her.  This rules out much of the types of authentic exploratory conversation that you would recall or expect from the early phases of a romance.  Does Chantal believe in God?  Does Emily watch college football on Saturday mornings?  Is Ashlee a Tea Party Patriot?  Do any of them have anything in common with Brad?  We’ll never know.

The Crazy One:  There is always the crazy one.  Among female contestants, the crazy one is a conniving, conspiratorial manipulator.  Among male contestants, the crazy one is just unaccountably belligerent at all times.

Chris Harrison: He is the host, and his job consists of showing up three times an episode to announce an obvious fact, such as “There is now only one rose left.” No man in show business does less work.

Metaphor Abuse: On The Bachelor, having your fabulous vacation date momentarily interrupted by rain is ironclad proof that “our relationship can weather the storms of life.”  And bungee jumping together on one of the endless stunt dates demonstrates one’s willingness to “take a leap of faith” in love.

The Right Reasons: The producers have realized they can inject additional drama by inserting one or two aspiring performing artists or models into the contestant mix on every season, setting off obsessive speculation and finger-pointing about who is or isn’t there for “the right reasons” and who is merely there to advance their notional careers.

Rejecting the Premise: Generally by the third episode or so, the contestants start pronouncing, in utter surprise, how hard it is to watch the bachelor/ette go on dates with the other contestants.  As most of the contestants, especially the women, have clearly studied all previous seasons of the show quite closely, they must understand that this is what they’ve signed up for.  Same phenomenon is observable on Wife Swap (a truly great piece of television), where the husbands invariably refuse to follow the new wives’ rules, despite this being the entire premise of the show.

Amazing: Every contestant is an “amazing” man/woman.  Every date is the most “amazing” day/evening in the most “amazing” locale.  This is the adjectival equivalent of Zimbabwean hyperinflation.

Helicopters:  Helicopters are the primary form of transportation on The Bachelor.

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