Wheaton’s Way

Home renovations and other horror stories

Why do I find home renovations so scary?

I have committed to far riskier enterprises without thinking twice, but I just have to hear the word ‘drywall’ and I break out in a sweat.

My friend Carol, a Canadian, seems to be constantly upgrading her residence. I specify her place of birth because DIY house installations and design appear to be a national pastime for the Canucks. She repaints walls about every two months; switches out appliances that I thought still had plenty of life left in them; and replaces lighting fixtures. The kicker is, everything she does looks awesome. I seethe with jealousy, and find the desire rising within me to do the same… until I consider what’s involved.

I’ve never really learned the skills myself and I probably don’t have the patience. Remember, this is the gal who stapled and glued material together to make a dress when she was a kid because she couldn’t be bothered to sew.

About two months ago, I bought reams of that fake tile stuff – where you simply have to peel it and stick it on the wall, and – hey presto – a million-dollar result for pennies. Couldn’t do it. I was terrified I’d be off the angle by a hair and then I’d have ‘tiles’ moving in a slow slant down the surface.

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Beyond that, I think I bought the wrong pattern for the job.

Now, you might wonder why I would even bother trying to take on such a task myself when there are professionals out there. The skills are certainly prevalent in the community, but add good timekeeping and the ability to return my calls to that particular Venn diagram and suddenly there is a lot of white space in the intersecting centre.

There are some really great contractors/tradespeople in Cayman and then others that would drive a person to drink, who believe that ‘8:30am’ means ‘any-time-between-8:30am-and-midnight’ and a job that was promised within a week goes to three weeks for some unfathomable reason.

Hey, listen, you discover a trove of Roman coins hidden in my toilet pipes when you were switching out the plumbing, or a perfectly preserved early 20th century Caymanian catboat in the cistern when you were cleaning it, and absolutely – let’s delay everything to properly evaluate these incredible finds. But, if not, what the heck is the holdup?

The not-returning-phone-calls thing drives me nuts, as well as the quote for a job with lots of parts and labour involved, reduced to a one-line description – say, ‘patio remodel’ – and a single price in the right column rounded up to an exact dollar figure.

I swear, if I had to choose between someone who was on time and returned calls – but repaired everything with duct tape and popsicle sticks – and someone who was always late, impossible to contact, but used the correct tools and fittings, I’d go with the former, just for my sanity. After all, duct tape really is extraordinary stuff.

The people who tell you that the best two days of your life are the day you buy a boat and the day you sell it, are the same doomsayers who tell you that the most expensive rooms you’ll ever renovate are your bathrooms and your kitchen. Unfortunately, they appear to be correct on all counts. I owned a boat for a while.

Of course, the bathrooms/kitchen observation is a very general one. If you ‘upgrade’ your kitchen on the cheap with cardboard cupboard doors and a faux tile backsplash, but install a jacuzzi in the living room with a prototype 105-inch UHD 10K screen on the wall, odds are good the latter will present the higher bill. I’m just referring to the usual rule-of-thumb.

It seems unfair to me that the rooms that cost the most to revamp are the ones I use the least. I’m in the bathroom maybe five times a day (10, max, if I’ve eaten spicy food or suspicious salmon), and I could cook eggs and beans anywhere. Gas vs. electric? KitchenAid vs. Viking? It’s bad enough when you have a clue about these decisions, let alone when you’re someone like me who thinks the only hoods in the world are either on sweatshirts or worn by the Jedi.

All of the above aside, I am going to have to bite the bullet and remodel a bathroom in the house. When I told Carol and best friend/housemate Lynne (also from the world of provinces), you’d think I’d got us all backstage tickets to BTS or something. Their eyes lit up with excitement, and they started discussing everything that could be done in there, like parents mapping out my future. I no longer existed.

Keen to have some say in the conversation about changes in my own house, I dared to mention replacing the flat mirror over the sink with a fancier one, and got immediately shouted down. No, no – it had to be a shallow medicine cabinet in modern wood with a mirror, or how could I show my face in public ever again?

Canadians have strong opinions about fixtures.

I’ll see what those two will allow me to install at the end of all this, but in the meantime, I’ve secured a contractor who has done work for me in the past and proved to be most reliable.

He calls when he says he will, his quotes are itemised, he shows up on time, and I’ve yet to see a roll of duct tape or a bag of popsicle sticks in his possession. Like Neo from ‘The Matrix’, could he be The One?

Stay tuned.

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  1. I love Ms. Wheaton’s editorials and always look forward to them. Her humor and wit are a great way to end these news letters that are always filled with disappointing news about the government’s lack of progress with re-opening tourism and all the violence that never seemed to exist back when we started coming to Grand Cayman over 20 years ago.