March 2012 Archives - 3/3 - Bob Vila

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DIY Deals: Early Spring Weekend Sales Watch


Spring is the season of renewal—especially for your home, so take advantage of some of the amazing sales this weekend.  Here are just a few to get you started:

Hayneedle is holding The Elevent this weekend. Take an extra 11% off of dining, patio, and conversation sets, cushions and covers at checkout with special promo code “ELEVENT”. Sale ends 3/11/12

Wayfair is offering big savings on mattresses—up to 50% off—plus 20% off select bed and bath items. Limited time only

Ace Hardware is hosting a FREE Paint Saturday tomorrow (March 10, while supplies last). Print out a coupon from the website and take it to your local store for a free quart of Clark+Kensington flat enamel paint. If the store has met their quota on free paint, you can always take advantage of “Red Hot Buys” on everything from shop-vacs to garden tools.

Crate and Barrel is having a sectional sofa sale all month—take 15% off! Sale ends 4/1/12

Macy’s Weekend Sale is happening now. Take 20-60% off designer bed and bath products, plus an extra 15% off already-reduced items, and an extra 10% off select departments. You’ll also get free shipping with orders of $99 or more. Want the same deals in-store? Visit Macy’s online to print out a coupon before you hit the bricks-and-mortar location. Sale ends 3/12/12 is helping you kick off your spring cleaning. All month long, save 20% off any one single cleaning item. For bigger savings, click on the “Sales” tab, where you’ll find great items on for up to 75 % off. Sale ends 4/1/12

The Benefits of a Central Vacuum System

When we were weighing options for our home, a new construction, I was almost certain we wouldn’t elect to put in a central vac system. The price tag was high—we could buy 5-10 amazing vacuums for what the system would cost to install. Besides, what did I care? I’d always hated vacuuming and left most of it for my husband. But when I saw the way his eyes lit up at the salesman’s pitch during our selections appointment, I decided we should splurge. It would make him immensely happy, I knew.

Central Vacuum System

Photo: JNoonan

What I didn’t realize is that, with a central vacuum, I would soon develop an outright passion for a chore that I previously abhorred. My husband almost never gets to vacuum anymore, because I do it every chance I get! I never bruise a leg dragging an unwieldy canister behind me. And I never get that dusty vacuum smell (or the flying dust that comes with it) in my house anymore. I vacuum my baseboards twice a month, whereas once I was lucky to do it twice a year. Nowadays, I regularly vacuum my kitchen cabinets, my cooktop, my window sills, behind my washer/dryer, and even behind my toilets. I am a true convert, and feel it was well-worth the money we spent on it.

Here are the top four reasons I love my central vac:

1. There’s no heavy canister to pull, or bulky unit to push around. And I never have to wrestle a vacuum up the stairs.

2. The power unit is in the garage, so all the noise and dirt stays on the outside of the house.

3. Because the unit is stationary and out-of-the-way, it can house a bigger motor. Extra power means that my central vac works a lot better than any traditional vacuum I’ve used.

4. My vacuum hose is 30 feet long! And it plugs into several outlets throughout the house. I can reach, and vacuum, literally anything I want to.

As a bonus, like any appliance, our central vacuum adds value to our house. But nowhere near the value it adds to my cleaning ritual. Even my young children want to use it. I might let them take over the vacuuming one day—but probably not!

Central Vacuum System - child

Photo: JNoonan

Preventing Home Accidents

Preventing Home Accidents

Photo: Shutterstock

It’s easy to overlook the obvious, especially when you’re busy, distracted or anxious to get something done. But oversights when tackling home improvements, and even routine chores, can have serious consequences, particularly when it comes to personal safety.

In Preventing Home Accidents (Hunter House, 2012), author and certified safety professional Dan Hannan, serves up a comprehensive guide for raising home-saftey awareness. As an experienced safety educator and trainer, Hannan acknowledges that, while safety isn’t the most thrilling topic, it is an important one; especially since 46 percent of all accidental deaths each year occur in the home, outpacing automobile and workplace fatalities combined (according to the National Safety Council).

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Light, Water, Warmth: Tips on Germinating Mail-Order Seeds

Burpee Seed Starter Forms

With the last frost imminent in most parts of the country, you can begin working on your garden today. Instead of buying young plants this year, try to start seeds indoors. It’s cheaper than the alternative (particularly for plants you might choose to grow in great quantities) and accommodates a larger variety than your local nursery does. Seed sources like and specialize in high-quality heirloom seeds and make available a wide range of species.

Of course, buying the seeds is only the beginning. When it comes to successfully growing seeds indoors, Chelsey Fields, Vegetable Product Manager at, has four expert pointers.

1. Seeds with a long growing season that are tolerant of root disturbances are the best seeds to sow indoors. “Tomatoes, basil and petunias are all great candidates,” says Chelsey. Most seeds need to be started 4-8 weeks in advance of the last frost; check individual packages for specifics.

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How To: Paint Kitchen Cabinets

A do-it-yourselfer can achieve a near-perfect finish by following the tips in this handy primer on how to paint kitchen cabinets.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets


Our 20-year-old cabinets were showing their age. The lacquer finish had gummed up around the handles and pulls, and the cabinet rails and drawer fronts were worn and dinged. In addition, my wife and I were tired of the dark stain and the dated, discolored hardware. The cabinets were well built, though, with solid wood doors, drawer fronts, and frames. It would have been a shame to tear them out, and replacing them with a similar grade cabinet would have cost thousands of dollars.

Having painted the cabinets in previous homes, I knew the pitfalls associated with applying enamel paint. Getting the look of a factory finish is not easy for the average homeowner. Nevertheless, a do-it-yourselfer can achieve a near-perfect finish by following these tips.

1. Choose a week when temperatures are moderate. Avoid hot weather because it will cause the paint to dry before it can completely level itself, leaving ridges caused by brush bristles.

2. Empty your cabinets and drawers, as well as the countertop and shelves. Take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of duplicates and stuff you never use. Put everything in moving boxes and store them in a nearby room.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets - Remove Hardware

Remove the hardware. Photo: JProvey

3. Remove the cabinet doors, drawers, and all cabinet hardware. Do not kid yourself into believing you can achieve a professional result without doing this. Make certain that you keep track of which cabinet doors and drawers go where, as it will make the re-install considerably easier. Scratching small Roman numerals under hinge leaves on cabinet frames and doors is one way.

4. If the project looks like it will require a lot of sanding, hang overlapping sheets of plastic over the kitchen entrance to keep sanding dust from migrating throughout the house.

5. Wash the cabinet frames, doors, and drawers thoroughly with a TSP and water solution. Pay particular attention to cabinets near the range. You’ll be amazed to find how grease has accumulated in the various recesses of cabinet doors.

6. Lightly sand all surfaces that will be painted with 220-grit paper. This includes both sides of the doors, the drawer fronts, rails and stiles. Flexible sponge sanding pads, like those from 3M, work great in the recesses of raised panels.

7. If your cabinets are stained, apply at least two coats of quality primer. For me, there’s nothing better than BIN, Zinsser’s shellac-based pigmented primer. It dries fast and flat, without brush marks (unlike most oil-based primers).

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets - Sanding

Lightly sand primed surface. Photo: JProvey

8. Lightly sand the primer coat, wipe with a tack cloth, and prepare for applying the finish coats. You’ll need a lot of dust-free space for this. A two-car garage is ideal. Several pairs of sawhorses (or old chairs) and a large drop cloth are helpful, too.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets - Thinning

Mix paint with thinning agent. Photo: JProvey

9. Mix a thinning agent into an alkyd-based enamel paint according to the manufacturer’s directions. For this job, we used Benjamin Moore’s Impervo semi-gloss paint. Avoid using water-based paint unless you’re okay with visible brush strokes. For the thinner, I’ve have had excellent results with Penetrol.

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets - Brushing

Painting the cabinets. Photo: JProvey

10. Paint the backs of the cabinet doors first. Do the fronts last; they’ll be less likely to be marred by drips. Apply paint with the grain (in the direction of the longest dimension).

11. For recessed panels, paint the recesses first using a 2-in. brush designed for alkyd enamels, such as China bristle or blend of polyester and nylon. Paint the flat areas with a high-density foam roller or with a high-quality bristle brush. Tip off rolled and brushed surfaces by lightly dragging a wet, but not loaded, brush tip across the entire length of the surface you’re painting.

12. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly before flipping over the doors and drawers and doing the opposite sides. Be vigilant about drips and paint buildup in recesses.

How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets - Install Hardware

Re-install hardware. Photo: JProvey

13. Reinstall doors and drawers, hinges and catches. Then install the new drawer and door pulls or knobs.

Money-saving tip: There are many sources online for cabinet hardware at deep discounts compared to home centers. The selection is greater, too.


All of the Expert Painting Advice from
Of all the options available to remodelers, paint provides the quickest, easiest, and most affordable way to achieve a transformation, inside or out. Ready to look at your home in a new way? Click now for the color ideas to make your project beautiful.

Official Sweepstakes Rules

Bob Vila's "Spring Giveaway"


The Bob Vila’s “Spring Giveaway” Sweepstakes (the “Sweepstakes”) is sponsored by, LLC, Post Office Box 835, West Barnstable, MA 02668 (“Sponsor”). The Sweepstakes consists of one (1) random drawing (a “Drawing”). The Sweepstakes begins at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (“EST”) on March 5, 2012 and ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on March 31, 2012 (the “Sweepstakes Period”). The entry period for the Drawing shall begin at 12:00 a.m. EST on March 5, 2012 and end at 11:59 p.m. EST on March 31, 2012 (the “Entry Period”).


Open only to permanent legal U.S. residents. Void in all other geographic locations. Employees of Sponsor and its respective parents, affiliates, subsidiaries, and advertising and promotion agencies and any other entity involved in the development or administration of this Sweepstakes, and their immediate family members or household members are not eligible to participate in or win the Sweepstakes. Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify any person who fails to meet the eligibility requirements or any person it determines, in its sole discretion, to be sufficiently connected with the Sweepstakes such that such person’s participation could create the appearance of impropriety. Entries generated by script, macro or other automated means are void, and Sponsor expressly reserves the right to disqualify any entries that it believes in good faith are generated by an automated program or via scripts. Entries that are determined, in the sole discretion of the Sponsor to constitute advertisements, commercial messages, or “spam” will be disqualified and deleted. Void where prohibited by law. All applicable federal, state and local laws apply.

No purchase is necessary to participate in the Sweepstakes. To enter any given Drawing, you must complete all of the following steps during the Drawing’s Entry Period:

1. Visit the Bob Vila’s “Spring Giveaway” Sweepstakes website at

2. Submit your name and email address using the online submission form.

Alternative means of entry for each Drawing is available by faxing your name and address to the Sponsor at 508-437-8486 during the applicable Entry Period. Entries received after the end of the Sweepstakes Period will be deemed void. Normal time, toll, connection and usage rates, if any, charged by your Internet service provider will apply. All entries become the property of the Sponsor. By entering any Drawing during the Sweepstakes, you will be agreeing that any information collected in connection with the Sweepstakes may be used by Sponsor in accordance with, LLC’s Privacy Policy, a current copy of which can be found here. By participating, all entrants agree to abide by these Official Rules.

At the end of the Entry Period, there will be one (1) drawing in which one (1) potential winner (“Winner”) shall be selected from all eligible entries received for each prize available during that Entry Period by employees or representatives of the Sponsor to receive the prize designated for the Drawing for that Entry Period. Each winning entry will be chosen at random. The number of eligible entries received during the Entry Period for a Drawing determines the odds of winning for that Drawing. The Sweepstakes will be conducted under the supervision of the Sponsor. If the Winner is determined to be ineligible, forfeits or does not claim the prize, the prize will be re-awarded, in Sponsor’s sole discretion. Other restrictions may apply. Decisions of the Sponsor are final and binding with respect to all matters related to the Sweepstakes. All prizes (or in the event of a lost, misdirected or otherwise unavailable prize, a prize of equivalent value) will be awarded. In no event shall the Sponsor be obligated to award more prizes than the number of prizes stated in these Official Rules. Winners shall be responsible and liable for all federal, state and local taxes on the value of their prize. To receive a complete list of winners or a copy of the Official Rules, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Prize Fulfillment,, LLC, PO Box 835 Barnstable, MA 02668. Specify winner’s list or rules on your request.

The Winners will be notified by email; Sponsor reserves the right to determine the method of notification. Winners must claim their respective prize within twenty-four (24) hours after the date of notification of their prize. A Winner’s failure to respond to the prize notification within the specified twenty-four (24) hours will be considered such Winner’s forfeiture of the prize and an alternate Winner may be selected from the pool of eligible entries. If an entrant is found to be ineligible, an alternate Winner may also be selected from the pool of eligible entries. Sponsor reserves the right to ship prizes directly to the mailing and/or email address (as applicable) provided by Winners during their entry to the Drawings. Each entry submitted in response to a Drawing and in accordance with the Official Rules will constitute an official entry. One (1) entry per household per day. Duplicate entries within one day will be void.

The prize package shall include one (1) Toro 30” TimeMaster Lawn Mower with a retail value of $1,049.99. 
Prizes are not transferable. Actual retail value may vary. Winner will not receive the difference between actual and approximate retail value. Gift cards are subject to any and all restrictions stated thereon.

An entrant or winner may be disqualified from the Sweepstakes, and his or her entry may be deleted, if he or she fails to comply with each provision of these Official Rules, as determined in the sole discretion of the Sponsor. Participation in the Sweepstakes is at entrant’s own risk. Sponsor shall not be liable for (1) failed, returned or misdirected notifications based on inaccurate information provided by the winner on the Drawings entry forms, (2) entries and responses to winner notifications which are lost, late, incomplete, illegible, unintelligible, postage-due, misdirected, damaged or otherwise not received by the intended recipient in whole or in part or for computer or technical error of any kind, (3) any electronic miscommunications or failures, technical hardware or software failures of any kind, lost or unavailable network connections, or failed incomplete, garbled or delayed computer transmissions which may limit an entrant’s ability to participate in part or wholly in the Sweepstakes, (4) any technical malfunctions of the telephone network, computer on-line system, computer equipment, software, program malfunctions or other failures, delayed computer transactions or network connections that are human, mechanical or technical in nature, or any combination thereof, including any injury or damage to entrant’s or any other person’s computer related to or resulting from downloading any part of this Sweepstakes or (5) any warranty of fitness or merchantability of any prize or the function or operation thereof, which shall be the sole responsibility of the manufacturer of the prize. Sponsor does not make any, and hereby disclaim any and all, representations or warranties of any kind regarding any prize. Unless prohibited by applicable law, your entry constitutes your permission to use your name, photograph, likeness, voice, address (city and state) and testimonials in all media, in perpetuity, in any manner Sponsor deems appropriate for publicity purposes without any further compensation to such entrant.

By entering or accepting a prize in the Sweepstakes, Winners agree to be bound by these Official Rules and to conform to all federal, state and local laws and regulations. When applicable, the Winner (or, if the Winner is a minor, the Winner’s parent or legal guardian) may be required to execute and return to Sponsor within three (3) business days an Affidavit of Eligibility, a Liability and Publicity Release and relevant tax forms to be eligible for the prize or an alternate winner may be selected. Winner may be required to furnish proof of identity, address and birth date in order to receive a prize.

By entering, an entrant agrees to indemnify, release and hold harmless Sponsor and each of its respective parents, subsidiaries and affiliated entities, directors, officers, employees, attorneys, agents, and representatives (collectively, the “Released Parties”) from any damage, injury, death, loss, claim, action, demand, or other liability (collectively, “Claims”) that may arise from their acceptance, possession and/or use of any prize or their participation in the Sweepstakes, or from any misuse or malfunction of any prize awarded, regardless of whether such Claims, or knowledge of the facts constituting such Claims, exist at the time of entry or arise at any time thereafter. Released Parties are not responsible or liable to any entrant or to any Winner or any person claiming through such Winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action, regulation, order or request by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action, regulations, order or request proves to be invalid), equipment failure, threatened terrorist acts, terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond the Released Parties’ sole control. The Released Parties are not responsible for: (1) any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by entrants, printing, electronic or human errors or by any of the equipment or programming associated with or utilized in the Sweepstakes; (2) viruses or technical failures of any kind, including, but not limited to malfunctions, interruptions, or disconnections in phone lines or network hardware or software; failed, incorrect, incomplete, inaccurate, garbled or delayed electronic communications or entry information, any error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation or transmission, failures or technical malfunction of any computer online systems, servers, providers, computer equipment, software, email, players or browsers, whether on account of technical problems, traffic congestion on the Internet or at any website, or on account of any combination of the foregoing; (3) the unavailability or inaccessibility of any transmissions or telephone or Internet service; (4) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Sweepstakes; (5) technical or human error which may occur in the administration of the Sweepstakes or the processing of entries; (6) any injury or damage to persons or property which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from entrant’s participation in the Sweepstakes or receipt or use or misuse of any prize; or (7) late, lost, misdirected, illegible, incomplete or mutilated entries or for theft, destruction or unauthorized access to, or alteration of entries. These indemnification and release provisions shall survive expiration of the Sweepstakes.

Persons found tampering with, abusing, or otherwise disrupting any aspect of this Sweepstakes, or otherwise attempting to defraud Sponsor, as solely determined by Sponsor, will be disqualified and their entries will be deleted. If disqualified, Sponsor reserves the right to terminate the entrant’s eligibility to further participate in this Sweepstakes and future promotions and sweepstakes of Sponsor or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates. Any attempt by an entrant or any other individual to undermine the legitimate operation of this Sweepstakes may be a violation of criminal and civil laws. Should such an attempt be made, sponsor reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.

This Sweepstakes is strictly for promotional and entertainment purposes and may not be used in connection with any form of gambling. In the event this Sweepstakes is challenged by any legal or regulatory authority, Sponsor reserves the right to terminate the Sweepstakes, or to disqualify entrants residing in the affected geographic areas. In such event, the Sponsor shall have no liability to any entrants who are disqualified due to such an action. Sponsor reserves the right to modify these Official Rules in any way or at any time. Sponsor reserves the right, in their sole discretion, to cancel or suspend this Sweepstakes should viruses, bugs or other causes beyond their control corrupt the administration, security or proper play of the Sweepstakes. In the event any portion of this Sweepstakes is compromised by any non-authorized human intervention, actions of entrants, or other causes beyond the control of Sponsor which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, corrupt or impair the integrity, administration, security, or operation of this Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to suspend, modify, abbreviate or terminate the Sweepstakes without further obligation. If Sponsor elects to abbreviate the Sweepstakes, Winner(s) will be determined from all eligible entries received for Drawing(s) prior to the action or compromise giving rise to the suspension or termination of this Sweepstakes. In the event of cancellation, abbreviation or suspension, Sponsor shall promptly post a notice on the Sweepstakes entry page to such effect.

This Sweepstakes shall be governed by New York law. By participating in this Sweepstakes entrants agree that New York courts shall have jurisdiction over any dispute or litigation arising from or relating to this Sweepstakes and that venue shall be only in New York City, New York. The failure to exercise or enforce any right or provision of these Official Rules shall not constitute a waiver of such right or provision. If any part of these Official Rules is held by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid or unenforceable, that part will be enforced to the maximum extent permitted by law, and the remainder of these Official Rules will remain fully in force.

Win a Toro TimeMaster in Bob Vila’s Spring Give-Away!


Bob Vila's Spring Give-Away Toro TimeMaster Lawnmower

Spring is just around the corner and with it warmer temperatures, planting and gardening, and lawn care.  That’s why we reached out to our good friends at Toro for this month’s Bob Vila Spring Give-Away. Starting today—and every day during March—you can enter to win the new Toro® TimeMaster walk-behind mower, valued at $1,049.99 (MSRP).

The Toro® TimeMaster’s extra-wide, yet lightweight, 30-inch cutting deck allows you to mow your lawn up to 40% faster than if you were using a typical 21-inch walk-behind mower. Featuring self-propelled maneuverability, the mower includes an innovative Personal Pace automatic drive that adjusts easily to different mowing speeds, while a traction-assist handle helps tame uneven terrain. The mower’s Spin-Stop function also allows you to stop the cutting blades without shutting off the engine—ideal for removing obstacles from your mowing path without having to restart the engine.

Toro TimeMaster LawnmowerAdditional features include a twin-blade cutting system, a two-point height-of-cut adjustment that gives you professional looking results, a 12-gauge steel deck, a cast aluminum frame and a Briggs & Stratton® 190cc OHV engine to provide durability you can count on. When you’re done mowing, the Quick Stow lever allows you to conveniently change handle height positions for easy, compact storing.

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A Conversation with Bob Tedeschi: “The Pragmatist”

Bob Tedeschi, The New York Times DIY columnist, chats with me about home, family and the infinite challenges of home improvement.

Bob Tedeschi


[Editor’s Note: Bob Tedeschi has a deep, diverse and celebrated journalistic background, having covered everything from political issues to motorcycle rallies. He has taught journalism, writing and literature at the community college level as well as creative writing for children (at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, founded by Paul Newman). Bob contributes on a regular basis to The New York Times “Gadgetwise,” but you likely know him as the author of the “The Pragmatist” column—an honest, light-hearted, and truly informative body of writing about the DIY experience.]

Bob Vila: You certainly have a multi-directional career, but the whole area of do-it-yourself and home improvement seems like something you really love. Is that right?

Bob Tedeschi: I do. It’s a lot of fun actually. I generally approach projects with a sense of dread and excitement, which is an odd mix. But usually once I’m done with them, I’m thrilled.

Bob Vila: I always say it’s that personal satisfaction of knowing you did the job yourself that is the best payoff of any DIY endeavor. When did you start writing about home improvement for The New York Times?

Bob Tedeschi: It started a couple years ago. The editors had taken a look at the Home section and they wanted to run more stories that would be of service to readers. We had a lot of high-design elements and real estate-related pieces, but we were looking to help homeowners who were trying their best to tackle projects on a budget, particularly since the column launched during the recession. I had some experience with more service-oriented columns and they thought I fit the profile; someone who could squeeze a lot of practical guidance out of each project. And the column was born.

Bob Vila: “The Pragmatist” is such a terrific title. Was that your idea?

Bob Tedeschi: I cannot claim credit for that one. There were a few titles that were floated around, but as soon as I heard that one—like you—I thought, yeah, that’s it.

Bob Vila: Did you grow up in New York City?

Bob Tedeschi: I grew up in an old house in Connecticut. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My dad was always either under the car yelling out various things that were going wrong, or under the sink trying to figure out how to fix a leak. So I was always looking over my dad’s shoulder trying to figure out what he was doing in between curses.

Bob Vila: What was the period of the house?

Bob Tedeschi: It was probably turn of the century; there are markings on it that suggested it was the 1890s. It may have been a little newer than that, but not by much.

Bob Vila: I know that Connecticut has such an incredible wealth of 19th- and 18th-century homes. I also know that people can become slaves to their antique houses.

Bob Tedeschi: It felt a lot like that. Every project required us to peel through layers and layers and layers of history to get down to what was original. It was a big task.

Bob Vila: What is your own house like?

Bob Tedeschi: It’s about as average as you can get. It’s a circa-1970 Colonial, about 2,000 square feet on around an acre of land in the Connecticut suburbs. And we have four kids who put the house through the ringer. My wife and I do our best to keep up with everything that breaks. As you can imagine, we do a lot of improvising. I think I used a pair of vice grips as a shower handle for the better part of a year, because we had no time to replace it. Or, more accurately, I didn’t devote the time to figuring out how to do it (at least before the column came around).

Bob Vila: No, it’s true—even if you’re in the business. We spent probably a dozen years living in a huge Victorian in the Boston area. And one of my kids actually pointed out that he had used the bathroom at a friend’s house where they had this thing on the wall that held the roll of toilet paper. You didn’t have to pick it up off the floor. It really drove home the fact that I had never gotten around to putting toilet paper holders in all the different bathrooms in the house. And there were a lot of bathrooms.

Have you had any really horrible do-it-yourself experiences? Problems that you just couldn’t resolve by yourself?

Bob Tedeschi: It almost seems like there are too many to count.

Bob Vila: Well, where do you draw the line between what you’ll consider dealing with and what you’ll definitely call in a handyman, professional, or carpenter to handle?

Bob Tedeschi: I’m still wondering where that line is. Part of “The Pragmatist” is doing things on the cheap, so I will do everything I can not to call in a $100-an-hour guy. However, plumbing is something I usually avoid. I’ve taken a whack at a lot of different leak jobs. But plumbing, for me, is a real area of weakness, because I’ll try to find a leak and either make it worse or tear out a piece of wall in the process. And then I’ve got a bigger job on my hands.

I once tried a tiling job and mixed enough grout to cover my neighborhood with the stuff. But that’s the idea of the column, winging it on your own because that’s what everyone does. Then I’ll get a hold of somebody like you or someone else, who really knows what they’re doing who can get me out of trouble.

Bob Vila: Well, not everybody knows everything about everything. When I’m asked about projects that are suitable for DIY, I always advise people to steer clear of anything that could be life threatening—electricity, steam/radiators, plumbing, heating equipment, and climbing on the roof. What kind of projects do you have coming up?

Bob Tedeschi: We’ve got a few ideas we’re working out. I think the one that I’m most looking forward to is replacing the kitchen countertop and cabinet doors. It’s a project that is definitely overdue. I think these countertops are probably original to the house. And like a good many projects, it’s one that I’ve always seemed to have an excuse not to get to.

Bob Vila: What are they made out of?

Bob Tedeschi: I think the countertop is Formica and, while the cabinet doors seem to be particle board, the frames look to be solid wood. So I don’t know if we’re going to replace all the cabinets or just the doors, which sounds like a much easier way out.

Bob Vila: It’s an easier way out if you’ve got good frames. And by good, I mean solid wood as opposed to particleboard, chipboard, or MDO [medium density overlay plywood]. If your cabinets are 20 or 30 years old, they’re probably good solid wood-base frames. What are you planning to replace the countertop with?

Bob Tedeschi: We’re not sure yet. We’ve got to come down to a budget, but design-wise our kitchen could go in a lot of different directions. I know that the countertop material we choose will dictate how our kitchen evolves, so it does require some serious thought. I’m not sure we’ve thought through that piece yet, but it is an important piece.

Bob Vila: You also have to consider your budget in terms of how long you intend to stay in the house and what impact the kitchen remodel may have on resale value. It seems like everyone wants granite countertops, but it is so expensive.

I was just at the Builders’ Show and the newer laminate products from Formica are very attractive. When I was starting out in the ’70s, we would often combine Formica with butcher block (butcher block being the granite of its day because it added a deluxe appearance and was functional). But you’re right, just making the decisions can be challenging. And if you’re going to do any of the countertop replacement yourself—boy, that’s a big job if you’re working with stone. With Formica you may be able to reface without having to rip anything out.

Bob Tedeschi: That’s my first set of guidance right there. I’m going to quote you, Bob.


Be sure to check out Bob Tedeschi’s 5 Tips for DIY Beginners. For “The Pragmatist” columns, current and archived, visit The New York Times online.

Bob Tedeschi’s 5 Tips for DIY Beginners

DIY Beginners

Bob Tedeschi, New York TImes "The Pragmatist" columnist

During a recent interview with The New York Times columnist Bob Tedeschi, a.k.a. “The Pragmatist,” I asked if he had any words of wisdom for the DIY beginners—individuals, like him, who are learning as they go. Not surprisingly, this chronicler of his own trial-by-fire do-it-yourself mishaps and successes served up some great advice.

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The Backsplash: A Kitchen’s Most Underutilized Real Estate

Kitchen Backsplash


One of the areas that many of us consider absolutely last when remodeling the kitchen backsplash. After months of pondering countertop choices, we often settle for the easiest solution when it comes to the backsplash (a result of either running out of time or money, or both). And that’s a shame!  That 18-inch-high space between wall-hung cabinets and the countertop can attract the eye, both with color and texture, and it can provide some valuable, eminently useful real estate, too.

If you have a small kitchen, like I do, your backsplash needs to be more than a decorative backdrop. It needs to perform. So rather than clutter up the counter with messy containers and small appliances, I zeroed in on that six-foot run of narrow wall. To my delight, I realized there are a wealth of manufacturers meeting the challenge of backsplash-friendly alternatives. Here are a few that should help you make the most of your backsplash and your kitchen.

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Kitchen Backsplash

Zero-Gravity Magnetic Spice Rack

This space-efficient Zero Gravity Magnetic Spice Rack by Zevro lives up to its name, as the 1.5 oz. canisters can store spices top and bottom. A locking mechanism on each canister allows you to dispense contents by pouring or sprinkling—great for one-hand use. Choose from the 6- and 12-canister models (each model includes a sheet of self-adhesive spice labels for your convenience).

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