Nightmare on Elm St.

The journey of turning the nightmare we bought on Elm St. into our dream home...

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Welcome Chicago Tribune Readers

If you read about us in the article in the Chicago Tribune, welcome! We feel very honored to have all of this recent media attention. Feel free to poke through the archives, and come back this weekend for pictures of our latest demolition- the backyard porch and patios!

**** Chicago Tribune Article ****
True-life confessions of the weekend warrior
Bloggers detail the good, bad and ugly of rehabbing; call it 'therapy'

By Mary Ellen Podmolik
Special to the Tribune

July 21, 2006

Jocelyn Meyer and her boyfriend, Steve Gerard, spent a weekend in late June preparing nine doors, two windows and 1,900 feet of wood trim for stripping, a minor but time-consuming task in the multiyear renovation of their North Side 1910 two-flat.

And when it was all over, Meyer sat down and wrote about it, took some photos and posted it on a Web log, or blog, that details the ins and outs of their large project and snippets of their personal lives.

For some people, the idea of rehashing a job in painstaking detail and taking photos along the way might seem like overkill. But for Meyer--who adds to her blog as many as five times a week--and a growing legion of amateur rehabbers like her, it's therapy. And she has found an audience. On average, her blog,, gets 300 page views a day.

"It brings a feeling of closure," Meyer said of her postings. "And there's that whole `let me show people what I did' thing. If you're working full time and working on your house on weekends and nights, you can't have a super-rich social life. It helps to connect up on the blog. And you're showing [your work] to people who can appreciate it."

The growing popularity of blogs has brought together far-flung communities of every ilk, and rehabbers are no exception. Blogs dedicated to home improvement and renovation have given do-it-yourselfers a way to exchange advice on myriad subjects.

But the benefit of blogging is encouragement as well as education. Bloggers say there's a lot to be said for "chatting" with others who understand better than anyone how excited you were to spend your weekend taping drywall or finding a better way of laying hex tile.

Some rehabbers start a blog to update out-of-town friends and family on the progress of their renovations. Others find them by accident when they search the Internet for advice on various subjects, land on someone's journal and soon find themselves documenting their own work for others.

Three years after buying a 1914 Craftsman-style bungalow in Chicago and vowing to renovate it themselves, Aaron and Jeanne Marie Olson are seasoned home improvement buffs. They also are dedicated bloggers and have gone so far as to establish a Web site that aggregates other renovation blogs,

(Two other blog finders to check out are and

But that wasn't their initial plan at all. The Olsons established their Web site,, within a month of buying their fixer-upper to share pictures with family members. Others happened upon it. "Most surprising to us, we'd show up as search results when people would google `noisy radiator' or `smelly basement,'" Aaron Olson said.

They've shared details on the work done on two bedrooms and two bathrooms (including one that bloggers helped redesign), exchanged comments about the paint colors they've chosen, learned how to refurbish old wood windows and found better tools to strip paint. They find the online networking a critical part of a home makeover that will take an estimated seven more years to complete.

But they are careful to sound like homeowners, not renovation professionals.

"We don't tell people how to do stuff," Jeanne Olson said. "We tell people what we are doing with our house. There are a lot of caveats. We are not contractors."

Experienced bloggers say if they want to hear back from readers, it's important to detail the work clearly but in an engaging manner. They strive for the text to be personal, rather than just sounding like a how-to manual. An entry one day might focus on dealing with an uneven bathroom floor; the next day the topic might be dealing with children underfoot or the contractor who never showed up.

The other imperative is photos, and lots of them. Before, during and after shots are common, as are less-than-glamorous shots of homeowners or contractors performing the work.

Kim Bouldin, a Nashville-area homeowner, says she likes to use a lot of descriptive text and pictures on her blog,, ranging from before and after pictures of breaker boxes to the detailed to-do list on the side of her blog, with completed items crossed off. She'll spend up to two hours a day updating the work on her family's ranch home because she's determined to keep a warts-and-all journal and how it can tax homeowners financially and emotionally.

"Renovating is not a pretty, neat and tidy process," Bouldin said. "It can get ugly, really ugly. I think readers need to see that side, too--the good with the bad. And when I'm feeling discouraged because of the slow progress or a renovating goof we made or the mess, readers, often other house bloggers, provide encouraging words that keep me going."

Her candor has paid off. A kitchen designer who stumbled across her blog sent her oil-rubbed bronze kitchen hardware for free.

Bouldin acknowledges the potential downside of blogging: getting so caught up on the computer that the blog, not the project, takes center stage. "It's easier to write a blog or read other people's than to peel paint or sand," she said. "But if you're going to have pictures of anything, you've got to do the work."

Amanda and Aaron Forster knew nothing of home improvement blogs when they bought a 1915 duplex 45 miles north of Washington, D.C., two years ago. Then they found honeybees living in a wall, and Amanda went to the Web, seeking information on tuckpointing.

She landed on a blog. "I just got sucked into this whole world, reading about what people were doing to their houses, reading their personal stories," she said.

They decided to document their own progress, and her husband came up with a name: (Yes, they really do live on Elm Street.)

They've asked other homeowners about various types of drywall and gotten tips for making wood trim. At the same time, though, the couple feels obligated to share their travails and successes with others.

"There's a lot of things I would have been too afraid to tackle before," Amanda Forster said. "I've been helped so much by strangers that I feel it's only fair that I make the contribution to someone else."

- - -

Read it and weep

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. For renovators who blog, victory can manifest itself as one less trip to Home Depot or one more project crossed off the to-do list. The agony? It's everything from smashed hostas to the exhaustion that comes with never quite being done with those projects.

Take a peek at recent posts. If you've lived through a remodel, we bet you'll relate.

Chicago Two-Flat


Jocelyn Meyer and Steve Gerard, Chicago


Please! Just don't hurt my hostas! (June 29, 2006)

"Here you see my yard yesterday. Peaceful and somewhat pleasing--a nice place to be--maybe even eat dinner.

Today the roofers came . . . and things have changed. They hurt my hostas. They thwarted some lilies, and my lawn is in tears.

As it turns out the original roof was still on the building. This is to say that there has never ever been a tear-off done. There were five or six layers of roofing on our roof. I know we did the right thing because this is way too much weight for our building, but it is not pleasant for my garden--at all."

House In Progress


Jeanne Marie and Aaron Olson, Chicago


After the baby is tucked in . . . (June 12, 2006)

"...what do DIY mommies do?

Do they get a glass of wine? Put their feet up? Read a magazine?

Not if they want handles on their built-in cabinet, they don't. Sigh."

One Woman's Cottage Life


Kim Bouldin, Nashville


Five-Day Home Improvement Marathon (July 2, 2006)

"There is nothing like the thought of company coming to get you motivated to work on your house. My mom and stepfather will be arriving either Thursday night or Friday morning and that means we have about five days to tackle a lot of projects. . . . Here is the list of things that I want completed by Thursday.

Mow the yard, weed and mulch landscaping beds, prune a few trees.

Prime and paint the gutted bathroom subfloor, make the space temporarily "cottage cozy" (a gutted bathroom cottage cozy in five days? Stay tuned...) The only working part of this bathroom is the tub, our only tub, so our guests will have to be in there.

Paint hallway and living-room floor white (yes, folks, we're living with subfloor here at the moment. I stare longingly at our beautiful hardwood stacked in the garage dreaming of the day that we can finally install it! )

Install cabinet doors

Finish putting lattice skirting around deck

Paint a small exterior portion of the house (deck area)

Clean, declutter, clean, declutter! Don't laugh, for all things are possible in the mind of a crazy woman."

Nightmare on Elm St.


Amanda and Aaron Forster, suburban Washington, D.C.


Tile tribulations (June 19, 2006)

"Tiling adventures continued this weekend. We're finally getting the planning for the weekend part of the equation down ... although I really do need the workweek in my nice, air-conditioned office to recover from our weekend warrior activities. We had all of our materials in place, as well as Diet Coke and sandwich supplies, so I didn't go to Lowe's or Home Depot once all weekend long! Isn't that awesome. I don't think that we've ever accomplished that feat before."
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune