You've Bought the House, Now Read the Book
10 must-own tomes for any serious homeowner
For the in-depth nitty-gritty of home renovation, nothing compares to this newly revised 1993 favorite. Written by a veteran renovation contractor and educator with a refreshingly liberal attitude toward historical purity (read: replacement windows are okay), it covers the gamut from reglazing a sash to lifting the ridge beam. The result: A highly evolved form of DIY literature that will keep you engrossed for hours, almost wishing you'd taken on a more challenging fixer-upper.
Most surprising fact: The crude, trowel-scarred texture of "authentic" early colonial and European plasterwork was likely the result of 17th- and 18th-century do-it-yourselfers who couldn't afford to pay a professional to do it right, i.e., smoothly.
Think of this as a flip book for grown-ups: The pages are cut horizontally into three strips—showing photographs of floors, walls, and ceilings—that allow you to flip back and forth and try out different color combos in living rooms and bedrooms. Offering a contemporary and traditional furnishing option for each room, the 45,000 combinations shown here (each colored strip corresponds to a Glidden paint) will save you hours of angsty guesswork and a fortune in sample quarts.
Most surprising fact: Mint, eggplant, and pea go surprisingly well together.
(For a similar experience online, try our Digital Designer virtual design tool.)
As much an inspirational philosophy as it is a practical space-planning primer, this Minneapolis architect's 1998 classic will transform the way you view your home. In some 200 color photos, detailed floor plans, and priority lists, Susanka artfully shows how a small space is a big opportunity for creating intimate, multi-purpose rooms. Susanka's House has proven so popular that it's spawned five best-selling sequels, but the original is still the one to own.
Excerpt: Today's houses still wear the architectural equivalent of a hoopskirt, even if the accessories seem more contemporary. While we've been busy evolving over the past century, most of our houses have not. Their evolution has been constricted by outdated notions of what we think we need and what the real estate industry says we need for resale. At the turn of the new century, most houses are designed for the turn of the last. It's time to rethink our houses and to let them become expressions of the way we really live.
If God is in the details, this must be the bible for historic design. Trying to pick a ceiling rose? Frozen over what to do with a frieze? Having difficulty imagining the 19th-century mantel that once graced the gaping hole in your parlor? The Millers' unabridged, beautifully photographed, and surprisingly accessible sourcebook not only gives you loads of historically accurate windows, doors, cornices, floors, and roof tiles to ogle, it helps you understand what the creators of these architectural details had in mind—which will help you make up yours.
Most surprising fact: Before the early part of the 17th century, most floorboards in England weren't nailed down but, like locks, were removed when the house was vacated.
This Pulitzer Prize winning author's fly-on-the-Sheetrock account chronicles the construction of a five-bedroom Greek Revival style house that helped make the reputation of architect Bill Rawn. Required reading for anyone interested in how architects and contractors think (especially what they think of each other and of you), it's also a moving elegy to the pride of workmanship that goes into a well-built home-if you don't tear up when head carpenter Jim Locke packs away his tools for the last time, you may want to check that thermostat of yours.
Excerpt: "There was always an assumption that the frieze would extend out from the face of the house," says Bill. Jim studies the drawings for the first time. He looks up at Bill. "Well, I guess the solution is to get the drawings before we build the house." Jim throws the papers down onto the tailgate. He stares at Bill. The owners, Judith and Jonathan, glance at each other and don't speak. "It's been different from the way you did it, all along," says Bill. "Not all along." Jim picks up the blueprint and shakes it. "These drawings right here are dated six-fourteen. It's makin' me mad, all this stuff."
This exhaustive, encyclopedic reference volume traces America's residential architecture—from Winnebago bark wigwams to postmedieval English manses to geodesic domes—in anthropologic detail. It's a must-read for preservationists attempting to rectify previous homeowners' misguided updates. What it lacks in color photography (the black-and-white shots appear lifted from tax records), it more than makes up for in fascinating historical tidbits that will help you place your home within the sweep of this country's storied architectural history.
Most surprising fact: Aside from the log cabin and the suburban split-level, the Prairie Style, developed in Chicago in the early 1900s, may be the only truly indigenous American house style.
There are plenty of home-repair guides that offer in-depth explanations of how to fix a water heater or troubleshoot a malfunctioning doorbell, but none makes it as fun as this plucky, snazzily designed manual from The Home Depot. In addition to being illustrated with clear, easy-to-follow digital photos, every project includes an accompanying skill meter delineating level of difficulty, required skills, and estimated length of the job. Plus there's "Homer's Hindsight," nuggets of hard-learned repair wisdom doled out by HD's sage, orange-aproned cartoon mascot.
Most surprising fact: Not sure which drill bit you should use when making a pilot hole for a nail? Use the nail itself. Just snip off the nail head, and secure it into the drill's chuck, and use it as you would a normal bit to make a perfectly sized pilot hole.
The 120 or so tips on stain removal alone would be worth the cost of admission, but that would be selling short the 1,800 other pearls collected here, on everything from fighting toilet condensation to shooing away deer. Sort of the married Norm and Tom of the household-hint world, the Haleys originally developed a cult following through their syndicated PBS television show. But it's in the hiakulike format of this bestseller that their homespun wisdom achieves its true, goofy flowering.
Top 3 hints from Haley's Hints:
1. If you store your hand tools in a damp basement, putting a few mothballs in the toolbox or tool drawers will absorb moisture and keep the tools from rusting.
2. To fix a wobbling wheelbarrow, bolt a pair of training wheels onto the axle.
3. Avoid messy runs on the side of your paint can by stretching a rubber band across the width of the can. That way every time you wipe your brush on the rubber band the excess will fall neatly back into the can.
Like most design books, this one's loaded with stunning photographs of perfect rooms. What makes these pics worth going back to again and again is the clean, architectural look of the spaces and the full-room illustrations that follow, complete with arrows and crystal-clear captions explaining why certain choices were made regarding furniture layout, flooring, and wall and window treatments. The book is also thoughtfully organized, from a "Getting Started" section that helps you determine exactly what you want out of your new space to a "Trade Secrets" chapter chock-full of hints that really seem as if they might get someone in trouble for spilling the goods.
Most surprising fact: Along with being a stylish alternative to carpet, seagrass matting has a sweet scent, "like fresh hay," that can last for years after it has been installed.
Peeved your peegee hydrangea isn't blooming? Looking to grow Concord grapes? Want to plant a weeping willow? There are a lot of great gardening guides out there, but this one covers virtually all the bases: how to grow and care for your lawn, flower beds, trees and shrubs, and herbs and vegetables. First published in 1995, the best-selling guide was revised in 2000, turbocharged with color photographs, and expanded with new sections, including one on organic solutions for preventing and treating plant diseases and pest infestations. Whether you need to know how to prune an espaliered pear tree or winter over your dahlias, this book's got the answers.
Most surprising fact: Spraying a mixture of baking soda, water, and a few drops of dishwashing soap on your plants will prevent the spores of many fungi from germinating.