When I write about home construction

Does life imitate art?  Not for me.  For me, it’s the other way around.  When life happens, I write about it.  For instance, after my husband and I built our house, I wrote about home construction in the Crosslyn Rise Trilogy.  When we began spending time in small New Hampshire towns, I wrote Lake News.  When my aunt developed Alzheimer’s disease, I wrote Shades of Grace.  When I felt overwhelmed by life’s demands, I wrote Escape.

And now?  Now it’s back to construction, which is a major player in the book I’m currently writing because — drum roll, please — we’re redoing a bathroom in our house.  As bathrooms go, this one is arguably our most important since it’s attached to the master bedroom.  Up until now, it had a shower that was small and dark, a bathtub that was built into a large platform taking up a godawful amount of space, a toilet that wasted water, and lighting that was sparse.  At the same time, there were three adjacent closets just begging to be combined into a single walk-in.

Down to the Studs

So — cymbals, please — we gutted it all, bathroom and closets.  Try to imagine the mess.  Imagine workers arriving at 6:30 am, hammering and drilling their way through my work day, all the while making personal use of the bathroom by my kitchen.  Imagine a dumpster in the driveway, getting heavier not so much with debris from the work but with snow from this abominable winter we’ve had!  Imagine a central alarm panel that had to be moved to another floor to open up one of those closets and the bellyaching of not one, not two, but three separate alarm guys who complained about the work.  Imagine the framing inspector signing off on the rough framing, at the same time declaring that the window overlooking what will be a free-standing bathtub isn’t tempered glass and is therefore out of code.

Still, I’m very fortunate, and not only to be able to do this project at a time when foreclosures remain high and homelessness abounds.  I get a high tech, environmentally smart, sinfully lovely bathroom out of this.  Picture marble the color of streaked sand, an exhaust fan that is silent, and three separate heads in the shower-to-be pictured here.

Shower To Be

I also get a book out of the deal.  I still don’t have a title, and this new book isn’t about redoing a bathroom but about rehabbing entire houses.  But the presence of a contractor, carpenters, electricians, and lumbers at my house every day doesn’t hurt.  They are — trumpet flourish, here — a resource like no other, taking the edge off what might otherwise be an endlessly slow project.

How about you?  Have you ever done a home improvement project?  Was it a dream or a nightmare?  Knowing now what you didn’t know then, would you do it again?

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  1. Marcy Collins on February 20, 2014 at 7:21 am

    In August of 2012 we had the roof replaced on our mobile home. Due to the heat conditions at that time, the roofers were showing up at 6:30 and working no later than 11:30 as the roof got too hot to work. We had 3 skylights that were not included in the price of the project and needed to be replaced-but there were none to be had anywhere & the ones that places had were already spoken for & some were on back order! We ended up covering the openings up and have not yet finished that portion of the project…have not take on any projects since. We are getting a new stove Friday and will need to replace the gas water heater soon so that’s as far I want to go with home improvement projects!

  2. Susanna Shirlock on February 20, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Barbara, I know what you are going through but the end result will be worth all of the inconvenience. We updated (no, actually, gutted) our 35 year old kitchen about a year ago. We had new cabinets built, granite counter tops installed, added a new sink and updated several appliances. For many weeks we had to cook on small appliances in our dining room and wash dishes in the bathtub. During the actual cabinet installation and plumbing work our dog had to spend several days at the kennel so the men could do their jobs without him barking and jumping. We are very pleased with our “new” kitchen and know that you will just love your finished bathroom. Good luck!

  3. Dorothy on February 20, 2014 at 7:34 am

    My son just finished a remodel on his master bath. I’m very proud of him as a single guy, at the age of 27 to have done that. Like you, gutted to the walls. Luckily, no major setbacks in the process.
    I saw the title of your book above, Trumpet Flourishes. When I read the comment about the grumbling alarm guys, I thought, and then all the work comes together in harmony. Hopefully they have gratitude for work each day.
    Love your books, many blessings to you!

  4. Dianne on February 20, 2014 at 8:25 am

    I’ve done this too! Only we ended up doing the whole house with the exception of 2 of the kids bedrooms and their bath. We lived in the house throughout the renovation, moving from room to room as necessary. We started early September and finished mid-February. In the end, it was totally worth it!

  5. chris thomas on February 20, 2014 at 8:27 am

    We knocked our dinning room and kitchen into one adding a utility room and small restroom .I moaned till my husband agreed to do this work ,then I then moaned so much my husband booked our flights to our Orlando home leaving our daughter in the UK to supervise the work .He swore he was on the brink of a nervouse break down , As I would go to bed dream of the next change of work already completed it turned out great.

  6. susy jenkins on February 20, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Good morning, Barbara. We’re starting updating our bathroom, kitchen and laundry room next month. Our house was build in 1980 and has stayed the same all these years. I dread the confusion, the mess and etc but I can’t wait for the finished project. Any sage words of advice? My hair is already white and now it might turn shades of different colors from all the stress. I’ll be waiting to see your finished bathroom. Take care and God Bless.

  7. Alexis on February 20, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Last summer we had s new room added to the house. Now, I generally rise very early but I slowly and quietly ease into the morning. So when the nail guns start going off at 7:00 am and there’s a hole in the dining area wall that you must walk by to get morning coffee, you really need to be dressed and alert. And the dust… well I just closed my eyes to it because there was just no keeping up with it. We do have a beautiful new four season sun room full of light that is wintering well. And I look forward to many years of enjoyment sitting by the windows reading my favorite authors.

  8. margaret miller on February 20, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Wait…is this a new novel? Or are you branching out? I’ve never built or remodeled a house but love reading about how it impacts relationships. Did you know that during the 5-year run of the television show “thirtysomething,” Hope and Michael Steadman NEVER finished remodeling their kitchen? What a metaphor!

  9. Mechelle Lang on February 20, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Barbara, Four years ago we began bringing our 1994 house into the present day. That meant redoing two bathrooms, the kitchen, building a free standing carport, adding a paver patio, new stone steps, new wide baseboards and reprinting. All of this going on pretty much at the same time, or else following one project after another. To top that off, my husband was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer and had surgery, our oldest son got married and our youngest son left for Wyoming to get his Master’s degree at UWY. What a time it was! But it worked and we certainly enjoyed all the improvements. Of course part of this time we were traveling back and forth to Savannah for radiation treatments and doctor appointments. We moved upstairs while our bath was redone, then back downstairs while the upstairs bath was redone. We ate out of paper plates, ate out, and watched the Atlanta Braves. But we made it and the house was lovely. It was so lovely that when we put it on the market 6 months ago, it sold for top price in three days. I miss it and Savannah terribly. But we downsized yard and house due to my husband’s health. We live in a small historical house in lovely Madison. But it just isn’t home yet. I’m sure there is a story here somewhere!

  10. Janet on February 20, 2014 at 9:31 am


    This real life experience will provide material for your new book that many people will be able to relate to.

    Personally, I have avoided major renovations like the plague.

    Last fall, my daughter moved out leaving behind a damaged room with adjacent bath. My plan was to simply restore the rooms/s to “good” condition.

    Bathroom: re-tile (5’x7′) floor, basic porcelain, nothing fancy

    Bedroom: repaint ceiling, walls, trim
    replace badly stained carpet

    The reality….

    Bathroom…tile floor, arranged through local big box business
    project took 6 weeks, involved 8 people
    repaint – did myself, done in 1 afternoon
    Result: looks good

    Bedroom…paint ceiling, walls, trim arranged through “recommended” handyman
    project took 3+ weeks, multiple phone calls to handyman to complete job
    Result: looks good

    Bedroom…replace damaged carpet in (12′ x 14′) bedroom, nothing fancy
    visited competing big box (explained experience with 8 people, 6 wks on tile
    floor project, spoke with dept manager, asked detailed questions as I
    had on tile floor project). Bottom line, project would involve 4-6 people, with
    an estimated 3 wk. time for project, cost 2x what I thought it should cost.
    job done by independent carpet installer, who referred me to a wholesale source
    for carpet.
    job completed in 1 week, from time of initial call to installer
    Results: looks good, cost of carpet replacement 1/2 of big box extimate

    Overall, project started Nov 11, 2013, completed Feb 12, 2014. Happy with results, not process.

    I think most homeowners will be able to relate to the home renovation aspect of your book.
    Just your fans with a few of your interesting characters and I predict a winner!

  11. MollyL on February 20, 2014 at 11:07 am

    We have a very cheaply made 13 yr old house. We lived in it for 7 yrs before we adopted our daughters who were 4 and 6, they are now 9 and 12. We never really bothered with the backyard and the 2nd yr the girls were home we had a huge water leak in our youngest’s bedroom. Supposedly the pipes were not wrapped. Leak fixed and then 4 yrs later, last Feb, we had another leak. Lots of plumbers coming through, people to dry out the floors (the leak traveled in the hallway, and in our bathroom and bedroom which share a wall to my daughter’s room). Then we decided to have pipes insttalled to take the water out the street and down the storm drain instead of under the house. We had a friend’s fiancee and his brother do it, they used to work for a commercial landscaping company. So we had our entire backyard and front yard dug up. Decided to add cement and a patio cover to our backyard, so our friend’s fiancee had his friends do it. I had to be on top of everything as there was always an “added” cost that wasn’t included in the estimate. The workers doing the patio cover and concrete were on “Mexico” time and it was “I think we come tomorrow” etc. They even cooked their meals in the backyard. It was an experience. Then we had all the floors replaced after 13 yrs, from the inside water damage, so we had to deal with getting the carpet changed over to laminate flooring. The floors were uneven so had to be drilled down (think dust EVERYWHERE). All in all it was a 3 month project and my kids who hate transitions, had to share a room and had so much upheaval it was really hard for them. SO I feel your pain. But it will be nice when you get it all done. 🙂

  12. Michèle Cooke on February 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I have a very small home, about 1200 sq ft…open floor plan…I love to cook, and had a kitchen that was more of a galley type than a fun place to work. So, about 8 yrs ago, I decided to improve it as it were….I have a front room that was considered a “den”, I decided to make it a more formal dining room. Well, that started the whole thing…I figured since my life was going to be disrupted, why not do a few other things. My neighbor, a very good fix it and redo man, and yes, we are still friends, did all the work. I had him and his 1 helper, rip out the windows in the kitchen and very small dining area, and they became doorways to my sunroom (12×16)…and close off the slider out to the sunroom, and put in book shelves…yes, for all my books, including quite a few of yours!..I had a professional company put in a 5’x5′ skylight (horror stories with that)…to give me more light into my new kitchen. had a few delays, lived with my fridge in my living room area for about 1 1/2 weeks, but all in all I love my kitchen. Oh, yes, had to close my 2 cats in a bedroom every day for several months during all this turmoil. I now spend a lot of time at my counter, that now seats 4 comfortably. Yes, there are some things I would do differently, but, so minor…So, I wish you good luck, good fortune and much enjoyment with your new spacious dream bathroom…..

  13. Lorraine on February 20, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I totally agree with S Shirlock! We’ve done it, did the kitchen and used the bathtub for dishwashing (my knees will never forgive me for that!), also had done both bathrooms in that house…one at a time, thank goodness. It’s painful to go through, but so worth it in the end. I know our house sold last year as well as it did because of all of the effort we had put into updating our 30+ yr old home. We also chose our retirement home a couple of years ago, based primarily on the fact of it’s newness (5 yr old) and the fact that everything was pretty much to our taste and will last till we fade away 🙂 No More Remodelling! Yay!

  14. Pam Lord on February 20, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Our first house was a little bungalow that we remodeled one room at a time. It had 6 rooms and we did one room a year. We lived in it for two years after the final room was finished and then sold it to build our dream home. That was 28 years ago and I am still as in love with our log home today as when the truck load of logs arrived!

    There’s something to be said about remodeling. It’s a character building experience. If your marriage can survive remodeling or building a home together, you’ve got it made.

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