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Front Porch: One good project leads to another … and another

You know on those HGTV remodeling shows on TV, how the first thing that happens is smashing the bejesus out of perfectly good-though-perhaps-outdated cabinets, the mandatory removing of at least one wall and never leaving a carpet in place where wood or manufactured flooring couldn’t be placed instead?

Everything is done BIG! And kind of scary, which makes tackling upgrading projects so intimidating, at least for me.

Yes, I’m a bit cynical about it all, and mostly because it makes me nervous, especially as I’m now deep into my own home improvement project. I have no confidence in myself in this arena and, frankly, am generally comfortable with my home as is because it feels warm and cozy, like an old slipper, and because I’ve stopped even noticing what has become shaggy and raggedly.

But not entirely. During the COVID sequester, I began to look around and see the things that have been ignored for too long. Everybody needs a project, right?

It started with lighting. We have a room that was intended to be a breakfast/morning room off the kitchen when our house was built in the mid-1970s. When we bought the place in 1988, that room became my husband’s office and a kinda-sorta TV viewing area with enough comfortable relaxing space for one person. The office has since moved into the living room – hey, it’s our house and we can locate stuff where we want – and the original office has become a full-time TV-watching area for both of us, plus the place where we sit and read in our comfy recliners.

The big fluorescent light in the ceiling is all wrong for the room’s purpose, and it’s annoyed me for years. Also, our kitchen cupboards have become rather shabby looking, so that should be tended to.

We keep things in good operational repair, but the aesthetics have largely been ignored, exacerbated by my husband being of the school of If-It-Ain’t-Broke-Don’t-Fix-It, so here we are. Until this year, when I announced that I was going to do something about the lighting and the cupboards.

It would be a small project. Ah, silly me.

Bruce did have a pained look on his face when I made my pronouncement, but I think he saw the fire in my eyes and, since I seldom do this, he didn’t fuss. I asked if he wanted to be involved in the endeavor. He said he’d be happy to remain on the sidelines.

Having no idea how to proceed (I really am bad at this), I went to a design center (recommended to me by a friend), where the kind and good Traci took my hand and led me through the mine field. I presented a rough budget to Bruce, just to be fair, and off I went.

I realized this lighting project was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so if I was going to address lighting issues, I should probably address all of them. It seemed to me that since I was going to be paying an electrician to come and install recessed lights in the one room anyhow, I may as well get rid of the fluorescent light in the kitchen and have can lights there, too. The living room is awfully dark, so why not there as well? And since I hate the amber-colored fixtures in the ceiling going down the hallway to the bedrooms, recessed lighting would look good there, too.

While we’re at it, replacing the ceiling fixtures with prettier ones in the entryway and in the stairwell going downstairs seemed like a good idea. Plus, I could use a new outlet in another wall.

Yes, this became a serious case of mission creep.

As for the cupboards, I wasn’t going to install new ones or repaint the existing ones. Too expensive for my comfort zone. But there is a newer refinishing process – not as costly (though still spendy) as the traditional methods – that I decided to go with. And since our cupboard doors never had hardware on them, they reflected decades of wear in spots from oily fingers.

I chatted with Traci about installing pulls, and she helped me pick ones that would look good in the kitchen. Funniest thing, Bruce came home from work one day and walked by us in the kitchen as Traci and I were looking at several samples on the counter. He asked (with curiosity, not malice): “What are those?” I told him they were cabinet hardware I was considering. “Why?” he asked. “Because I want them,” I said. “Oh,” he said, and moved carefully away. I think it was the look in my eyes again.

I went around and examined all the woodwork in the house, and I looked with newly invigorated eyes at all the scratches on the doors from our dog, the one who died in 2003, plus the sun damage to windowsills and the parching of our big wooden front door.

Well, since the wood refinishing company was coming to do the kitchen …

So that project has now expanded to deal with all the damaged wooden surfaces and doors in the house – in three phases, to give our finances a little rest in between assaults.

There have been a couple of hiccups in the process, of course, as always seems to happen – even on TV, where I thought the problems were scripted so as to create more drama. Nope, the drama just comes as part of the package.

I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed all of this, but, frankly, I found it stressful and am feeling calmer now that it’s almost done. I am happy with the improvements, and I’m certainly enjoying reading in my recliner and having the lovely nonglare light shining down in just the right places, and also having the ability to turn on all or just some of the lights to give the proper ambience for TV watching.

Life is blissfully returning to normal.

Except, I do find myself looking at the fading and beginning-to-peel 1970s wallpaper in the kitchen. Whatever shall I do about that?

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at

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