Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Infusing Heart

My condo is boasting a new kitchen, useful new Expedits, some lovely (and varied) wall paint, and is no longer littered with boxes, tools and an accompanying mantle of dust. No, my condo is clean to the touch, and relatively inoffensive to the nose. But somehow it is lacking....errrr...je ne sais quoi. That difficult-to-define element which is what I think the folks at Apartment Therapy refer to as "heart." When the walls are blank, and some of the furniture is brand new, a space doesn't yet feel cozy or lived-in.

Art certainly breathes life into a space, and I only have a few pieces of art, which are still leaning against some wall or other. They haven't exactly jumped out at me and said "This is where I belong. On the wall to the right of your dresser." Perhaps my walls and I are just not yet well-acquainted enough for the hanging ceremony.

I also tend to accumulate art slowly, so while I am certain that art will bring some spirit to my place, I am suppressing the desire to indulge in fleeting Ebay and Etsy art fantasies.

I have learned, however, that a way to bring vitality into a space, is to invest in some beautiful air-cleansing plants.

Have you heard of the NASA clean air plants study? Clever NASA, always offering the latest in sensible home-renovation tips rooted in nuclear science.

It was NASA's clean air plants study that inspired me to buy some greenery for my office a few years ago, as it turns out that these multitaskers suck the formaldehyde and other cell-corrupting chemicals right out of the polluted indoor air. Ironically, sealing buildings up in an effort to make them more energy efficient has resulted in something called "sick building syndrome" where otherwise healthy folks are coming down with mysterious ailments as a result of being trapped inside with off-gassing carpet, walls, and furniture.

One or two plants in any space can drastically improve measures, AND these beauties do a great deal to enliven an otherwise uninspired room. I have a Peace Lily, a Spade Leaf Philendron, and some kind of Dracaena. I figure that my small army of air-cleansers will compensate for those years I spent *occasionally* compromising my lungs. Okay, I'm an optimist. But I hold firm that they will provide some modest protection against the factory stink of my new kitchen cabinets Expedits. And they certainly enhance the heart center of my home.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

IKEA: Friend or Foe?

I may go blind if I have to decode another cryptic IKEA installation drawing. An attempt to screw in a simple overhead light fixture nearly brought me to my knees. I have taken 9 trips to IKEA in the past two weeks. The blue and yellow army has taken my patoot, asked me if I would like to carry it off in a $1.00 reusable bag that I will undoubtedly forget before my next trip to IKEA, and handed it to me one too many times. Along with the wrong cabinet faces, and leaving out the faucet (just to keep the variety of mishaps interesting) by the time I could actually line my kitchen drawers, I was ready to hire a fleet of strapping lads to put my oils and wax paper away. Such is the typical trajectory of the home renovation; just when the end is in sight, you find that your sanity has been whittled down to a nub.

Thanks to the invaluable efforts of my mom, aunt, and assorted friends, I now have a kitchen-like space; all I need is a plumber.

Now, to be fair, IKEA cabinets are *relatively* easy to set up and install. The assembly becomes intuitive after the first two or three clunky attempts, and they look sort of slick on the wall--especially given the fact that they are made out of factory air, compressed wood, and cheap hardware.

I must admit that the cabinet joints are cleverly engineered! They come with these rubber stoppers that make it virtually impossible for you to slam your doors and drawers shut, potentially shattering the composite wood.

My advice to others who are considering an IKEA kitchen renovation: Beware of splinters. My nail beds are full of 'em. And embrace the fact that you will make from one to eight return trips to IKEA to resolve botched orders. Other than that, I now have a kitchen with ample counter space that feels very functional. IKEA: Adore you or despise you, apparently I can't do without you. I surrender.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Elisabeth the Wunderkind

My mom is ridiculously talented. The woman gutted her old kitchen and built it back in a month...without help. She owns (among many tools) a fancy tile-cutter and a miter saw.

She's not a general contractor or a carpenter. My mom is a (retired) math teacher; a force to be reckoned with when wielding measuring tape and level.

And a sewing machine. See those velvet Renaissance gowns? She made those in a single afternoon to enhance our trick-or-treating pleasure.

While building cabinets alongside my mother, I began to wonder what it is that other people DO when they need help with a home project and lack the awesome force of nature that is Elisabeth Klein. Really, I could contract her out, shave a bit of commission off the top, and retire early. Or just continue to be really, really grateful.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009