Stephanie Hayes

Here’s one vexing moment in the coronavirus milieu. Many of us, stuck in our homes for unnatural stretches, looked up and went: Ew. Ew! This home is Ew!

The next step was to open, then realize that the real estate market had turned into an H.P. Lovecraft monster that feeds on innocent children. The next step was “fixing up the place.”

We decided to refinance and renovate our 1950 ranch home, which is full of “character,” another way of saying “is that mold?”

Over the past year, we have been lucky to repair things in desperate need, such as whole house re-piping. This is the most boring use of money. No host has ever said, “Grab your wine and I’ll show you my new sink tailpiece.”

After a near electrical fire and 87 deployments of the phrase “Just checking in!” with COVID-19 weary receptionists, we got to the big daddy: two pink bathrooms. I needn’t explain “pink bathrooms,” need I?

For emphasis, I will add that one of the walls was literally falling off.

Years of renovation television prepared me. This would be a fun project! We would appear in jewel-tone sweaters, clutching our mouths. We might weep and say, “This will mean so much to (fictional family member with dramatic story of redemption).”

Many months later, we have realized hard truths:

There is no telegenic host.

Even if you’ve hired labor, you are on your own. Design choices, budget, learning what a “Schluter” is — you figure it out.

Each day buying grout at Floor & Decor, I prayed for a Property Brother. Just ONE Property Brother. He would show up in low-rise jeans and a too-small flannel and say things like, “Do you want the good news or the bad news? The bad news is, we’ve found only fettuccine Alfredo in the wall, and fettuccine Alfredo is not up to code. The good news is, I think we can offset the cost by cutting three potted plants from the Big Reveal. Why don’t you head back to the hotel?”

There is no hotel.

Wisdom is life lived, or something? Our demolition preparations for the master bathroom were to push the bed out of the way and do a dance like Michigan J. Frog. That’s when the contractor mentioned the word “uninhabitable.”

On TV, people move out and live with mysterious benefactors. In the real world, who can just move out? In the real world, you limply drape plastic around your stuff and sleep on the couch, or on a concoction involving an ottoman and a phalanx of throw pillows. Then you jolt awake when the crew comes in and turns on Journey’s greatest hits.

And there is no Big Reveal.

After shipping delays, rescheduled inspections and exploratory curse words, you’d think finishing would be electrifying. But I don’t even know if I like the bathrooms anymore. Objectively, they are beautiful. But I’ve looked at them too much now, like staring directly into the sun.

When Chip and Joanna Gaines take someone into a room, I imagine an ecstasy of subway tile and ironic antique bicycles. Maybe after the crew leaves, homeowners hold a magnifying glass to the place where the Schluter meets the drywall and say, “Is our foundation crooked?” But it must be worth it for those minutes of bliss.

In conclusion, my home renovation advice is to get on television. Everything is better there.

— Stephanie Hayes is a columnist at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. Follow her on Twitter: @StephHayes and Instagram: @StephHayes. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.