In Greek mythology, many early heroes concluded their quests with the founding of a city. So too in our inestimably more humble lives, where an era of travel often gives way to a more settled impulse. Instead of slaying minotaurs and unifying Athens, however, in my case it was my round-the-world trip (and some follow-0n adventures) preceding a bit of playing Bob Vila in my place here in San Francisco.
Interestingly, as I set out on a somewhat ambitious round of home improvements, I was greeted with much the same incredulity as when I hopped on that British Airways flight to London and points beyond for seven months across the globe:
“You’re doing it by yourself?”
Why, yes! I’d worked for a contractor in high school and early college back in Montreal (to this day I still hear words like “alkyd” in quebecois French in my mind); I’d also done a fair bit of fixing up of the home I had before my travels, a little condo on Chicago’s lakefront. Some of what I was setting out to do — replacing base moulding; repainting walls — was familiar. But some pretty big stuff — redoing all my living room, kitchen and entry area flooring; repainting a metal spiral staircase in pretty tight confines — was new.
The lessons of travel, I learned, seep far and wide into one’s workaday life — even, surprisingly, into such mundane bits of domesticity as home remodeling. I’d always been struck by the clean, modern, space-efficient kitchens and bathrooms I found in my wanderings around Europe (information I’m filing away for next year’s projects); however, the Continent offered another bit of salvation as I pulled up old, dusty carpeting (amazing how filthy it gets after 15 years!) to reveal bare concrete subfloor beneath.
At first my heart sank: I’d wanted to put in 3/4″ thick hardwood flooring, the stuff that’s standard in homes the world over. Normally, to do that over concrete requires an additional plywood subfloor, railway-crosstie-style “sleepers”, or else abandoning real hardwood altogether and going with some cheaper stuff.
Enter Elastilon. Originally developed in the Netherlands, these rolls of fibrous mats with adhesive on one end, turn hardwood floor installations into a process of “apply and peel.” Oh, it’s still an art form of sorts, mixing and matching boards of different lengths and ensuring they’re all level and flush. But with no need for a nail gun (which I’d been warned is notoriously tricky to use correctly) or for messy, smelly liquid adhesives, this process was smooth, straightforward, and came out great. Chalk up another one for Old Europe.
Oh, don’t be fooled: this monthlong-plus adventure was hardly a cakewalk: my weekends and evenings were fully taken up with this project; prepping the concrete subfloor was a nightmare of sanding and leveling; I suffered the odd cut and bruise; I overcame some interesting engineering challenges — such as installing wooden boards around large circular stairway bases, becoming familiar with power saws loaned me by good-hearted fellow-DIY co-workers, and trimming boards by just the right amount to fit my oddly-angled front doorway (16 1/2 degrees to be exact).
Would I do it again? Well, like every home improvement project, I ended it with a weary sigh and a whisper of “oh, god NO!” But that sentiment was only temporary: the results are predictably fabulous (thanks to some design advice from numerous friends and family members) and I remain as eager to keep feathering my nest as I do to embark on further faraway adventures.
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