Sisyphus, hand me that cordless drill

Homeowners, put away the home-repair books and turn off the drywall-finishing videos. What you need more is a class in mythology. As any seasoned homeowner knows, the task of completing your project list is Sisyphean; the strength required to tame raw materials, Herculean. Most important, even if it’s a new residence, declaring your house finished can only be called, well, a myth.


When we moved to Ashland four years ago, my wife and I were very happy to be occupying a “new” house. From our perspective, the house is new. Built in 1998, it’s 60 years younger than our former residence in California. A beautiful but badly neglected Cape Cod, that home’s rescue and restoration became a mission, a monumental list of projects, and the cornerstone of our architectural education. Our commitment was eventually rewarded. The house was returned to its former glory, and it only took us 27 years. Barely an odyssey.


By the end of this journey, we had endured a number of schedule revisions and lively discussions. A mild sort of Clash of the Titans while standing in sawdust, these exchanges were more tepid than epic. Picture Artemis on the hunt for her mate’s common sense. Our marriage survived. Thanks, Aphrodite. My arsenal of power tools became impressive. Thanks, Home Depot.


Our quest to relocate to the Northwest included a resolution to leave house projects in the past. The Braun Age was concluded: no more hauling lumber, tile and drywall. Searching for a house in Oregon was a revelation: there were so many attractive houses, already remodeled and well maintained, we agreed as we admired the online photo galleries. During a visit to Ashland, our excitement grew at the prospect of moving into a house that needed little, if any, additional improvement.


Finally, we arrived at our new, 14-year-old home. In the happy process of unpacking and arranging furniture, it seemed quite perfect. Dual-glazed windows fit snugly. The satin sheen of hardwood floors flattered many rooms, and all the plumbing worked. The three-car garage was well supplied with shelving, and a workshop space was available.


Then, one day, we made a fateful decision to do a little painting. Soon after, a bit more. As a result, we were also forced to confront the issue of the tiny baseboards, which led to installing taller baseboards. Painting the new baseboards led to painting of other trim and cabinets, which triggered my wife’s monologue on the horrid condition of the front door. Enter the Greek Chorus — her friends — to support her cause with admirable fury.


One mystery we initially avoided discussing was the giant hole in the living room cabinetry, which became known as the Giant Hole in the Living Room Cabinetry. It was a square, five-foot cavity, about four feet deep, on the far left side of an otherwise attractive cabinet. We assumed it was intended for one of those colossal televisions. From this Stygian cavern I almost expected a Cyclops to emerge, looking for a fight. Where’s a lightning bolt when you need one?


Fortunately, the house itself offered raw material for a solution, in the form of a built-in desk in one of the bedrooms. By dismantling the desk and its shelf unit, we were able to reconfigure them into a bookcase and trim pieces that fit the Giant Hole quite well. Hephaestus would be pleased.


Throughout this process, we created terms that allowed us to justify our projects. They became small fixes, quick adjustments and minor repairs. Like experienced orators, we managed our audience — each other — with soothing euphemisms and lulled one another into a false sense of homeowning security.


Early on, we noticed that the kitchen was short on storage; with only two upper cabinets, the room lacked wall area for additional units. We modified the island and removed the nonworking trash compactor, filling its space with drawers from the recycled desk. The situation improved, but the cabinets were still overstuffed.


With her usual optimism, my wife announced, “We just need a butler’s pantry,” pointing to a utility closet in the hall adjacent to the kitchen. I had only a vague concept of a butler’s pantry and hesitated to launch into the task of fabricating one. No matter; my muse was pleased to initiate my education and conversion. Pictures of handsome, traditional butler’s pantries materialized on my desk daily; they were persuasive, I’ll admit. Color swatches, tile samples and lighting catalogs soon followed.


That did it: the Cerberus of home improvement had been unleashed, and Pandora’s toolbox of dust, debris and delays had swept back into our lives. Despite our earlier solemn pledges, we were, in fact, now working on our new house. As to a schedule for completion ... isn’t this when we consult the Oracle?

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