Fixes for Your Remodeling Regrets
This Old House offers coping tips to nine readers who sheepishly share their "If I only knew!" renovation goofs
The new high-gloss cabinets show every fingerprint, the handsome farmhouse sink is a wine-glass graveyard. You sprang for the best your money could buy. So why aren't you totally elated? Here, readers reveal the downside of some of their upgrades, while TOH offers short-term fixes—and longer-term advice.
"Our porcelain farmhouse sink hits the right vintage note, and it's deep and wide enough to hide stacks of dirty dishes when we entertain. The problem: Within a week we dropped, and broke, two nice glasses while washing up. And the carnage continues."
How to cope: Cushion falls—and shorten them—with a thick plastic sink mat. And start saving your skin and your cash by donning a pair of nonslip rubber gloves.
Next time: Get farmhouse style without those cold, hard landings: Think about buying a basin in more forgiving Corian, copper, or stainless steel.
"Now that we have open stainless-steel shelves around the range, when I need a pan I can just reach for it. What I didn't anticipate: Ugly scratches reflect my equal love for cast-iron cookware."
How to cope: A cleanser like Bon Ami can reduce the scratches' appearance, but never use an abrasive scouring pad. If the steel is brushed, you can try a kit called Scratch-B-Gone, which has "regraining" pads and an oxidizing liquid.
Next time: Protect steel shelves with clear plastic liners. Or consider wire Metro shelves. The wires are thin, so scratches don't show.
"I finally bagged a trophy stove with high-Btu burners. It looks great! Unfortunately, it cost so much that I cheaped out with a recirculating vent-hood fan. Now when I'm sauteing onions on one burner and boiling pasta on another, our small kitchen feels like one big oven."
How to cope: Open a window and plug in a table fan. Seriously. Just direct any breezes away from those high-Btu flames.
Next time: Invest in a vent hood that sucks up hot air and moves it outdoors. Figure that for every 100 Btus it should move 1 cfm—rangespeak for "cubic feet of air per minute." Look for a model that puts the noisy motor outside, too. (See range hood accessories)
"I put in a pea-gravel patio with flower beds around it to conjure a Parisian garden. I love to hear the atmospheric crunch of the stones. Then I put on a big party. All the women complained that they couldn't walk in their heels—they just sank! And it isn't so comfy on bare feet, either. Plus, pebbles pop up all over the zinnia beds."
How to cope: Try settling flat pieces of bluestone in the gravel at strolling intervals.
Next time: A hard surface is not only easier on heels but also easier to sweep clean of leaves, snow, and debris—and big stones don't roam into adjacent lawns or flower beds. (For tips on putting down a small bluestone patio, go to This Old House Bonus.)
"Our Carrara countertops are great for rolling out pastry dough. But most of all, they're just so beautiful. Unfortunately, every time someone squeezes a lemon or pours a glass of red wine, I find myself racing up behind them with a wet cloth before spots or rings have a chance to form."
How to cope: A food-safe marble sealer can provide a barrier, but you still need to blot up acidic spills pronto and follow with a soapy sponge. If the red-wine ring is there to stay, try applying a bleaching poultice. (Find the how-to at This Old House Bonus.)
Next time: Consider engineered stone or solid surfacing. You won't really mistake the look or feel for marble, but you also won't have to wave around a sponge every time someone wants to slice a lime.
"My old wood floors needed a new look, so I painted them glossy white, and now they are so beautiful they could appear in a magazine spread. But minutes after friends walk in, I feel a need to mop."
How to cope: Ask visitors to park their shoes at the door to keep out dirt and allergens.
Next time: Opt for a more muted (read: less demanding) effect by color-washing the floor with diluted white paint. You could top it if you like with a stenciled pattern, also in a muted, diluted color. There are entire books devoted to the art—Decorative Floors in a Weekend, anyone?
"Our new counter-depth fridge has the stainless-steel look I love and cost much less than a built-in. Who knew it would still stick out? It makes me crazy, since counter depth means giving up tons of storage!"
How to cope: It's easy to overlook the small things that can make a counter-depth model a bit more than counter depth: the plug, the ice-maker's water line, air space for the coils, and that beefy handle. You might be able to gain a half inch by recessing the electrical box into the wall; ask for a clock receptacle when you go to the home center.
Next time: If your cabinets are stock, have a carpenter box-in the fridge—whatever its size—while leaving room next to the hinge side for the door swing. It's the only way to cover the sides completely.
"Our contractor sold us on a durable, European-style, lacquerlike finish for our slab cabinet doors to bring out the grain of the oak. But along with the grain, it shows every smudge and fingerprint."
How to cope: Buff the cabinets regularly with a microfiber cloth—while you're talking on the phone, perhaps.
Next time: Top a tough, high-gloss finish with a clear coat that has a lower sheen.
"I fell for a hand-hammered copper birdbath at a museum gift shop, and it created a focal point for our yard. When summer temperatures hit, though, it turned into a funky mosquito incubator."
How to cope: Empty it twice a week and throw out the future biters with the bath-water. Can't be bothered? Add a weekly dose of a bird-friendly larval-control agent, like Microbe-Lift BMC.
Next time: Turn it into a gurgling fountain with a recirculating pump to discourage mosquitoes and attract more birds—they'll churn up the water even more.