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Home wrecking & home building

Terri Schlichenmeyer

They say the American Dream is to own your own home. I think that needs an amendment: the American Dream is to own a home that’s finished. Problem is, anybody who’s ever owned a home knows that it’s never finished. There’s always another shrub to plant, another room that needs painting, or another wall to knock out. There’s always a project that lies beyond the current project, as you’ll learn when you read “Gutted: Down to the Studs in My House, My Marriage, My Entire Life” by Lawrence LaRose (c.2004, Bloomsbury), the remodeling story of one couple’s house, marriage and life together.It all started with a dumpster and a real dump. Tired of renting a teensy apartment, Lawrence LaRose and his new wife Susan decided they wanted to start their lives together in their very own home. As it goes with many neophytes to home buying, their sights weren’t exactly set in line with their budget, a fact that they quickly learned. The only home they could really afford to buy was a do-it-yourselfer’s dream in a small-town-within-a-big-town area of Sag Harbor, New York.And then LaRose lost his job.To say that the home was a “fixer-upper” is like calling an outhouse the Taj Mahal. Bad paneling everywhere. Curling linoleum left over from the 1950’s. Dark rooms that were poorly laid-out. Closets with yellowing shower curtains instead of doors. The house needed gutting, which is exactly what the LaRoses did. They tore the entire house apart, right down to the studs.But what do two apartment-living office workers know about rebuilding a house? Enough to get by for a while, it turns out. Enough to know that you can hire people to do things you can’t do, and that you need to preserve your sense of humor, especially around your spouse. Enough to know that you grab all the experience you can, wherever you can grab it, which is why LaRose took a job as a construction worker. He bluffed his way into on-the-job training, learning how to put up walls, trim windows, and use a Sawzall, while constructing mansions and monkey houses. Eventually, of course, the house was finished, but not without the help of friends, contractors, and a little surprise that makes the project’s timeliness even more important.If you’ve ever done a do-it-yourself project especially one in tandem with your significant other then you will recognize yourself within these pages. While “Gutted” is a funny book, there are so many truths in the story LaRose tells, from the incredible frustration in fighting bureaucratic codes and rules, to the regretful sniping that two very tired married people can inflict upon one another while in the midst of a project that seems like it’s never going to end.Pick up a copy of “Gutted”, preferably before you get the Buying or Remodeling Bug. It’s not going to change your mind one bit, but it will at least give you a couple laughs while you’re waiting for the contractor. VT– Terri Schlichenmeyer


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