TOH editor Scott Omelianuk, center, reviews Reader Remodel Contest entries with deputy editor Kathryn Keller and special projects editor Eric Hagerman.
Photo: Ryan Benyi
TOH editor Scott Omelianuk, center, reviews Reader Remodel Contest entries with deputy editor Kathryn Keller and special projects editor Eric Hagerman.
July 2013

"They make what you lived through seem normal," Eric said to me, meaning you folks and my own remodel. Eric is the special projects editor at TOH, and this time of year he's responsible for working with all of you who send in pictures and stories and tips for our annual Reader-Created Issue.

He was telling me about some of his favorite submissions and held up a photo, from Teresa and Martin Bliley, of a handsome Italianate house in Meadville, Pennsylvania, with an odd bare patch in the front lawn. "Check this out," he said and began to read from Teresa's note: "‘You can still see the fresh dirt where we buried the first contractor.'"

Ah, memories…

Teresa and Martin Biley's handsome Italianate house with the text a joking reference to where the homeowner's first contractor is buried under the lawn
Or maybe the better term is flashbacks. Teresa's letter made me think of the first contractor, heavily medicated yet still mentally unbalanced, that my wife and I hired; the electrician who fled the country before final inspection; the deck builder who loaded our basement full of tools and then disappeared. I wondered if my deck guy crossed Teresa Bliley, too.

"Who else wrote?" I asked, and Eric told me about Heather and Dan Althoff. The couple had decided that surviving the stress of a remodel before marriage was a good indicator that they could survive anything, and so Dan proposed to her after a day of hanging drywall in the kitchen. I could relate: Before we were hitched, my wife, in the middle of our deck project, had decided she was either leaving me or marrying me, depending on how it all turned out.

portraits of Heather and Dan Althoff, and Alan Smith
Six years later, I can say that keeping a sense of humor helped us survive the remodel. Just like it did for many of you. Eric slid me a letter from Alan Smith, who leaned on this joke when he was surviving without sink and stove:

"How do you get by without a kitchen?"

"Well, I can still make my favorite thing."

"What's that?"


That's one way to reduce the stress of home improvement, which Ron Tompkins knows to be considerable. Reflecting on a particularly "nerve-racking" wallpaper job he did with wife Nancy, Ron told us, "Having been a first responder, I'd rather disarm a bomb!"

As you know, though, DIY mishaps don't have to be explosive to be dangerous. Take Wayne Brown, who lost a couple of fingertips during an excavation. Or Caroline Hinshaw, whose rototiller bucked, hooking her leg and resulting in three surgeries. I recalled my own mishaps through the years: dropping the air compressor on my great toe, shucking the big fella's nail right off and breaking the bone in the process. Smacking my head on the slate when I fell backward off the half-finished deck. The near electrocution of my brother and me when we cut into a hidden 220-volt line while removing a rusted tin ceiling in the basement.

portraits of DIY'ers Nancy and Ron Tompkins, and Wayne and Donna Brown
By the end of Eric's presentation, I felt, you know, bad. Not because it exposed the still-fresh wounds of my own ordeal, though it certainly did that. I felt bad because so many of you—before you ultimately triumphed in making your own house a better home for your family—had clearly sweated and suffered (and even bled a bit) too. And I wished we could feature every one of your efforts in this edition of TOH. You sent us more than 30,000 photographs for the Reader-Created Issue, and, well, you're holding a magazine, not a library. Yup, it disappoints me as much as it surely must you that there's room for only one image on the cover, in this case the kitchen of the Simpson family, of Eagle, Idaho, who won our Reader Remodel Contest grand prize: $5,000 and a 2014 GMC Sierra.

But, to quote Eric, check it out. No, we can't feature you all on the cover. But we found a way for you, with the help of an app called Blippar, to feature yourself on the cover. Here's the deal: Download the free Blippar app to your smartphone or tablet; launch the app, and hold your device over the cover of this issue; once the screen jumps to life, tap it, and you'll see the This Old House cover template. Then use the camera to frame your favorite project or remodeled room or garden or your entire house. Just tap the photo icon and—presto!—a TOH cover featuring your handiwork! Once you've got a cover you like, you can print it, post it to your social network, even e-mail it. And if you send your creations to me at, I'll make sure we put as many as we can on the TOH Facebook page.

It's the least we can do to give all of you the credit that we know you deserve.

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