Remodeling - Around a Landfill

THIS DAMN HOUSE: MY SUBCONTRACT WITH AMERICA

By Margo Kaufman

Villard, 211 pp., $21

Margo Kaufman was an unsuspecting freelance writer living in a cramped bungalow in Venice, Calif., when she and her husband, Duke, made the life-altering decision to renovate. A builder of dollhouses, Kaufman was used to projects involving nothing more than wood glue and a razor - projects that when you were tired of tinkering, could be conveniently shoved in a closet.

Remodeling projects, as the Kaufmans soon discovered, have a way of growing exponentially - the scale, the mess, and especially the cost.

Kaufman takes the reader with her on the journey to House Beautiful - meeting such construction characters as Shoshanna, tile princess of Ceramic City, and Brian, the architect known affectionately as "The Human DayRunner." She details every "joy" of renovation - from trying to remodel around a $5,000 baby grand piano to having your very own landfill in the front yard. Her pugs, Clara and Sophie, happily root around the mess, discovering a wealth of abandoned fast food, while Kaufman struggles to decide between paint colors such as Wax Bean, Creamcake, and Pearblossom. She also discovers IKEA, the Swedish wonderland of do-it-yourself furniture, as a result of her remodeling rule No. 7: To remodel is to render unsuitable all your old furniture.

From skylights to skyrocketing estimates, "This Damn House" is full of humorous stories that would make even the most die-hard "Home Improvement" fan hesitate before picking up a hammer.

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