6 solutions for your tough home issues

Ludwig Van Beethoven once declared that “Love, and love alone, is capable of giving thee a happier life.” Come again?

Call us shallow, but we are fairly certain that skim-coating your walls can actually give thee a happier life. Or crown molding: Crown molding makes us pretty happy. If you can have those things and love, well, that’s real happiness. A home renovation project, after all, is not the backdrop against which bliss typically blossoms. Tattered nerves, clashing tastes, blown budgets. It can all go sour pretty quickly. That’s why we’ve called in the House Therapist*, our in-house expert on keeping the peace, even while the literal dust is flying. Happy renovating!

Q: I want to surprise my partner with a perk-up of our vintage (midcentury) living room without spending a ton of money. Ideas?

A: Have custom baseboards made. You may think baseboards will go unnoticed, but they won’t. Beauty can be found in the details, and having new, clean, painted baseboards adds a crisp, finished, detail to the room. It’s akin to topping off the perfect outfit with just the right shoes.

Q: There’s no way to expand my galley kitchen without creating the mother of all renovations. What to do?

A: Hire a designer who specializes in space planning. Our kitchen renovation didn’t gain us an ounce of floor space, but it did gain more storage where it mattered; as in a skinny pantry that now holds all the stuff we use every day — cereal, onions, coffee, bourbon … coffee. And taller cupboards allowed storage for things like oversize roasters and the bulky Cuisinart. All you need to make this plan work is a folding step stool. (Get the one made by Hafele. It lasts forever, folds with ease and hangs on a hook.)

Q: Now that the kids are a little older, my husband and I like to enjoy quiet dinners in our backyard. Is there a way to make it more atmospheric?

A: Build an arbor. If you specify hefty lumber (use 8-by-8 posts for support, for instance, or opt for pre-milled porch pillars) and keep the design simple, anyone with reasonable carpentry skills can build it. It’s the construction project that gives the most bang for your buck, hands down.

Q: My husband and I go to the paint store excited to choose new wall colors, but what should be a fun project inevitably turns into a battle over colors. Help!

A: If my husband and I had a dollar for every time we left a paint store tired, depressed and paintless, we’d have enough money to buy separate houses and paint them however the heck we like. Bright orange? For the DINING ROOM? HAVE YOU LOST ALL FIVE SENSES? Sorry. Keeping the peace. Something that has worked for us is to trade off rooms. That is, this go round, I choose the color of the bedroom and he gets the dining room. Next time we switch. Remember, it’s only paint. Just like a bad haircut grows back, color can be changed.

Q: The new baby means my house now is without a guest room. Where will I put the out-of-town relatives?

A: A hotel. Oh, wait. (Why is it so hard to remember that keeping-the-peace bit?) Any room with reasonable bathroom access and some claim to privacy can accommodate a Murphy bed. Folding beds have gotten pretty high-tech (you can even get expensive ones that lower from the ceiling) and offer real mattresses instead of those flimsy sofa bed things.

Q: I’m sick of the kicked baseboards and dirty interior doors at home. My wife refuses to have our children’s feet removed. Now what?

A: Both baseboards and interior doors — especially the latter — look great in black. Glossy black doors are a good accent in either a vintage or more modern interior, focusing eyes on the architecture, whether it’s simple or more detailed. They offer a good hit of visual punctuation and, in a high-gloss finish, also stand up to the abuse that these places get. If you’re determined to stay white, acquaint yourself with Magic Erasers and embrace the zen of scrubbing.


The House Therapist is a mashup of Chicago Tribune editors Cindy Dampier and David Syrek and columnist Heidi Stevens.