Den of felicity

There’s nothing like a plumbing disaster to motivate a little remodeling

Kam Napier
Sometimes, you hear really optimistic
people say things like, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or, “There
are no problems, only opportunities.” Usually, such people are full of it. Lemons
are sour and problems are, by definition, problematic. But then again, sometimes
the optimists have a point. Otherwise, there’s no way I can explain the glee I
felt over a recent plumbing disaster. A single, slow mystery leak, a homeowner’s
problem if ever there was one, gave me the excuse I needed to do something I’d
always wanted to do.

For a decade, I’ve wanted to remodel my den at home.
Part retreat, part library, part home office and part stereo listening studio,
this room is my Fortress of Solitude. But it seemed only a superman would ever
get any remodeling done there. All I ever had time for was slowly stripping layers
of ugly paint off the nice mahogany door frames.

Then, it happened-water
began seeping out from the double wall between my den and my bathroom, leeching
into my carpet and up into some bookcases. This occurred slowly, over weeks, if
not months, unnoticed until my foot one day went splash! Dens, typically, do not

Just to find the leak, the maintenance guys in my building had to
tear apart the drywall. Its source was a mystery. Inside the drywall, everything
seemed, well, dry. Turned out the water was overflow from the drain pipe for the
washing machine in that bathroom, and only leaked when doing laundry.

the leak, and throwing away all the waterlogged, mildewed shelving and carpeting,
meant emptying my den. That’s when I realized this problem, this lemon, was really
a big opportunity. Now I could finally refinish those door frames, free to make
a mess in the now empty room. What’s more, I could at last redo the flooring,
repaint the walls and, most ambitiously, build all my own bookcases. Like lemonade,
the work would be fun and refreshing.

Scott Thigpen

It was that, mostly. There’s a
limit to how much metaphorical lemonade anyone can drink. For example, the first
half-hour of sanding 22 pine shelves is kinda fun. You run your fingers over the
wood and say, “Ooooo! Smooth!” Ten hours later, when you’re caked in sawdust,
hands numb from the buzzing power sander, you say, “Oh, smooth enough already.”

who knew lemonade could be dangerous, if made without the proper safety precautions?
For instance, we tend not to wear shoes indoors in the Islands. A perfectly pleasant
trait, most times. But at one point, I had two power drills going, one with a
bit for drilling pilot holes, another with a countersink. Whichever one I wasn’t
using, I’d put on the ground nearby. Once, I looked at a drill on the floor and
thought, “If I’m not careful, I could step right on that.”

Twenty minutes
later, I wasn’t careful. Kicked my bare toe right onto the jagged little tip of
the 1/16th-of-an-inch drill bit. This was the sort of thing that had my wife peeking
into the room, surveying the assortment of hand saws, chisels, power saws and
scrapers at my disposal, and repeating two words of warning: “Tetanus shot.”

learned a lot, too, about such things as load distribution. I didn’t want a plain
boring bookcase with the traditional straight sides. No, I designed a stack of
different-size, separate boxes I’d then attach together. This would be visually
interesting, I thought.

It was that. Unfortunately, it wiggled like an 8-foot-tall
accordion. A complete structural failure, some poorly made lemonade indeed. I
didn’t trust it to hold up its own weight, let alone 24 linear feet of books.
Fortunately, the fix was easy. I just stuck little scraps of wood into the darn
thing until it ended up with exactly what I wanted to avoid, traditional straight
sides. Then it was rock solid.

Finally, I learned that if I can survive
the nicks and cuts of a week’s worth of sawing, chiseling, drilling and scraping
without getting lockjaw, then I didn’t really need a tetanus shot after all. See,
I really am an optimist.