Saturday, May 11, 2024

How Not To Remodel

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 13, 2024] ©2024

As anyone who is touring homes to buy knows, the remodels people do on their houses sometimes defy imagination.  You can only look around and gasp, “Why would anyone do that?”

Our home of many decades was one of those houses, and yes, that was our exact reaction when we first looked at it.  But we bought it anyway. (Another column.)

Its failings started seventy-seven years ago when an obviously inebriated architect chose to ignore the collective 19,000 square feet of our lot and the one next to it and build two houses a mere ten feet from each other. 

Worse, the houses are oriented so that rather than being parallel, the backs of the houses face right into each other.  Despite a fence and a hedge, we can still hear everything that goes on at our neighbors’ and they everything that goes on at our house. Fortunately, with one exception (they played drums), we’ve had nothing but wonderful neighbors next door.  (The proximity requires a mutual “what happens in La Jolla stays in La Jolla” policy with them.)

Then, in 1955, the owners of our home incomprehensibly ignored the nice big lot and decided to convert the two-car garage into a wood-paneled laundry room, master bedroom, and bath. (Who panels a laundry room???) I realize that wood paneling was the hot new thing in 1955, now regularly disparaged on HG-TV shows. And with good reason: it gives rooms the charm of a root cellar.

While the rest of our house has been beautifully upgraded over the years, we never did much with the master bedroom other than skylights, shutters, and several replacements of carpeting over the cement slab. We just couldn’t see spending a lot of money on what was basically a garage room since any sane person would put a second story on the house and re-convert the room to a garage. Somehow, we were never those sane people.

Besides the dark paneling, the garage bedroom is north facing which meant it gets sunlight like never.

While we were away a while back, our son and daughter-in-law stayed in our bedroom when they came down with the kids one weekend. Afterwards, my daughter-in-law suggested our bedroom was such a depressing cave that a bear faced with wintering there might elect not to hibernate.

Hey, she should have seen it before the skylights.

It had been Olof’s and my observation that if we left the paneling long enough, it might go away on its own. That’s because our wood-walled bedroom is the termite version of the 72 virgins. Some nights I could swear I heard gnawing. We’ve tented the house but think our termites have developed a mutational fondness for poison gas.

But given our son and daughter-in-law’s vicious assessment of our sleeping quarters, we decided after almost four decades to paint the wood paneling a nice creamy white.

“Don’t rush into anything,” my son cautioned drily. 

As everything was moved out of the bedroom and laundry room, there were only more surprises of the really bad kind. Although our house is regularly cleaned, a hefty case of mildew covered the walls behind the heavy bookcases (bolted to the wall so they won’t crush us in an earthquake) while the termites had pretty much devoured the baseboards back there in their own happily secluded arthropodal Xanadu. A creepy netherworld of spider webs resided behind the armoire.

This is, I have to say, the downside of living in the same place for decades. Maybe everyone should be required to move at least every ten years if for no other reason than to find out what’s living behind your furniture.

Before we could paint, the mildew (the peril of living 260 steps from the Pacific) had to be bleached into oblivion, while the termites (and any residual arachnids) were dispatched in heartlessly cruel ways. Painting was the easy part. Of course, that might be because we didn’t do it ourselves.

Home improvement projects are nothing if not a case of dominoes. Not to mention that everything you improve makes something else look suddenly shabby.

And that’s exactly what happened with our lovely white shutters, probably one of the few charming features of our bedroom. Was it my imagination or did they suddenly look yellowish next to the off-white paint? But they don’t call Olof and me the Bobbsey Twins of Collective Denial for nothing. “Do the shutters look yellow to you?” I queried Olof. “Nope!” he replied, knowing where this conversation was going. “Me neither!” I said. Anyone who could live with gnawing for three decades could probably live with yellowish shutters.

The re-painted rooms are now exponentially lighter.  Olof and I are used to the fact that our bedroom was the garage.  But I hope whoever ends up with this house next tears it down, moves it 20 feet to the west, and foregoes the janky floorplans.


                        Why didn't we do this decades sooner?


No comments:

Post a Comment