Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Many Faces of Home Renovation

An uneventful home reno project hardly makes for an interesting story.

In All the Way Home: (building a family in a falling-down house) David Giffels' wife discovers that she is pregnant with their second child and suddenly the push is on to find larger quarters. Had they elected to opt for a practical bungalow in the suburbs with a sensible mortgage, the book would lacked something somehow. His heart is captured by a once glorious mansion now abandoned to ruin and decay. There is no electricity, no running water, the roof is questionable and an astonishing 733 panes of glass need attention. Giffels is a stubborn man and is determined to turn this monstrosity (critters, odours, leaks) into a home and restore it to its former glory. But at what cost? His single-mindedness enables him to remove himself from his wife and child during some of life's more uncomfortable realities and he acknowledges the strain this puts on his family. A charming story told with self-deprecating humour. Giffels acknowledges that a reno project is only finished when you sell it or you die.

Luckily real-life renovations rarely go as badly as fictional ones. Bodies have an unfortunate habit of appearing as the walls come down. In Plaster and Poison by Jennie Bentley a corpse is found in the carriage house being renovated by diy'er slash sleuth Avery Baker. A house, left to a Pomeranian, contains the additional nasty surprise of a disappearing body uncovered during a renovation in The Diva Paints the Town by Krista Davis. It's never good news when your contractor turns up with a bullet in his head, as Skye Dennison finds out in Murder of a Real Bad Boy by Denise Swanson.

There is a gentler side to home renovation. Bringing order to a chaotic house is a metaphor for bringing order to a chaotic life. In Under the Tuscan Sun: at home in Italy Frances Mayes, recently divorced, purchases a villa in Tuscany and lovingly sets about restoring it. Mayes' appreciation for the Italian countryside is almost lyrical. Her prose brings the sights, smells and sounds to life. Perfect escapism for the armchair traveler who dreams of making that one big change which will alter their life.

Those inclined more towards romance rather than mayhem in their home renovation projects might enjoy The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier, Passing Through Paradise by Susan Wiggs or The Carpenter's Lady by Barbara Delinksy.

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