Small Projects: Huge Fabulous Antique Armoire Edition

You know what I have to learn and then re-learn and re-learn over and over again? The joy of a small project. That’s what.

Quick. Immediately satisfying. Simple. Cheap. Those kinds of projects. I love them! Specifically, I love to over-think them, then get quickly overwhelmed by them, and then abandon them before I’ve even begun because I haven’t mentally worked out all the kinks. See? What’s not to enjoy?

This used to be easier before I bought my house. The whole house is one enormous project, composed of many different big, expensive, time-consuming, difficult projects. This will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, which is OK. I bought the thing. I asked for it! I even had some notion of what I was getting into, and I did it anyway. But that doesn’t mean it’s not at times exhausting and frustrating, I think in part because you end up spending so much time and money and energy on things that at least feel much more in service to the house than to yourself living in the house. Something like that?

To illustrate, let’s consider my windows. As with the rest of the house, they are very old. All of them need work, and the work is time-consuming and a pain in the ass, and when it’s all over…there’s a window. The same window that there once was, just in better condition and hopefully better prepared to stay in one piece for the next century. It still goes up and down as before, and still provides light as before. Congrats, house! You have a restored window. Boy do I feel…like I just spent a ton of effort on something that has not made a notable difference in how I live in this house. Awesome, let’s do it 36 more times, and we’ll spread it out over many years to prolong the fun!

My house has a lot of windows, literally and figuratively. It’s part of what I love about it. It’s part of what I hate about it.

SO ANYWAY, as much as I love my home, sometimes part of me might just long for the days when I lived in places owned by other people. Then, my projects were so much more about making myself more comfy and satisfied in my living space—which is, actually, fun and exciting and ultimately the goal of this whole entire endeavor, I recognize. But for me, those smaller projects will never feel like a priority when compared to the mountain of house-things I should be working on at any given time, so I have to be extra-conscious to make time for them every now and then. Turns out enjoying living in your house instead of just working on it all the time can, actually, make the work feel more worthwhile. Huh. It’s almost like…enjoyment…feels good? And…working on something you enjoy is…fun? Big revelations here today, folks.

So let’s think back to the summer, when I bought this big armoire and then we never spoke of it again.

Here’s what I did. I bought the big thing. Then I brought it home. Then I moved all my clothes out of the chest of drawers that had been occupying that wall, put them in a smaller set of drawers, and crammed that smaller set of drawers into my closet and moved the other one to another room to collect dust. Then I moved the big thing into place, wiped it off, took a couple pictures of it for my internet friends, and…

There is no “and” because that’s the whole story. It sat empty for the next six months while I occasionally thought about all these elaborate things I would do to build out the interior without compromising the integrity of the piece (it is, after all, an antique and I don’t want to fuck it up!). I wanted it to hold a TV, but also have storage for…something…which might involve drawers and cubbies and shelves and maybe some fancy twee labels. I’d have to construct a thing out of plywood to the exact dimensions of the interior so that it could nestle right inside, which obviously I’d have to plan, build, dry fit, remove, patch, paint, install, secure…it would have to be attractive and sturdy and hold all the things I needed it to, once I figured out what those things were, which really was the first project…

Enough. End the madness. The goal was not to have an enormous empty armoire in my room indefinitely, no matter how good-looking it is. The goal was to bring this thing into my life and, in turn, see my life improved by its presence. Sometimes (all the time) I need to stop and really think about how to simplify something, because my impulse is often to over-complicate it to the point that it becomes some big thing when all I really wanted was a goddamn TV in my bedroom because TV is my favorite thing and bed is my favorite place and the two in combination just feels so right.

Here is what I did. Try to keep up.

I went to Lowe’s and bought four of these little super-simple shelving verticals. Next to them, there are little packs of shelving clips, so I bought one of those. Then I went to a different aisle and picked up 3 pine stair treads, because they were long enough, a full inch thick, and had a nice bullnose edge.

You’ve seen this kind of shelving, btw. I didn’t, like, discover anything. They’re in every old person’s house in America. For a long time I’ve considered them kind of flimsy and crappy and, I don’t know, something everyone in the 1960s decided was a good idea, like cigarettes.

You know what? IT WAS A GOOD IDEA. Not cigarettes, the other thing. I submit that this shelving is actually rather beautifully designed in its simplicity of use and install, and clearly stands the test of time given how many I have un-installed from closets and stuff over the years. Ain’t a damn thing wrong with it.

(I could have probably scrounged up the wood for the shelves from the basement or the garage, but then again maybe I couldn’t have, and I’d have to break out the router for the bullnose edge, and there is something nice about the shelves all matching and not being some weird cobbled-together solution to save myself $30, and omg why am I even still thinking about this IT DOES NOT MATTER.)

Then I went home and I did something else. I installed all that shit. It took maybe an hour. I wiped down the inside of the armoire. I took out the existing clothing rod. I screwed in the verticals, like three screws per strip because the side panels are thin and flimsy so you can only screw into the thicker stiles and rails. I snapped in the clips. I cut my shelves to size (which, FYI, they would have done at the store for me if I asked/had the patience to find an employee). I drilled a hole in the back for cords to come through because we can only be so precious about stuff and nobody will ever see it.

Want to know something kind of funny? When I went to install the shelving tracks, there were already little holes on the inside of the cabinet that lined up perfectly with my screw holes! Because somebody ALREADY FIGURED THIS OUT. And screwed into the armoire, and not only did I buy it despite its compromised-by-modern-conveniences condition, it took me 6 months to notice and I don’t care even a little bit about it and anyone who’s worth a damn in the future won’t either, because it so doesn’t matter.

I’m getting worked up.

I put the shelves in. They fit.

Then I put the TV in. It’s a 40″ Insignia. It came from Best Buy. It was $200. It’s not the most amazing TV but it’s 100% sufficient and fuck if I’m gonna repack it and take it back to the store because it’s not amazing. It’s FINE and that is the attitude I’m trying to insert more into my life. IT’S. FINE. A great many things are fine being just fine. My mediocre TV is one of those things.

After the TV went in, I put in linens. I love linens. I do. I love sheets and blankets and duvet covers and seeing them neatly stacked in here makes me feel all kinds of domestic and adult about my shit. It’s that subtle difference between hoarding and collecting. Collectors store their shit well. Put it on a t-shirt.

The next day, high on my victory, I felt motivated to make the few little repairs that this piece needed. There were a few little pieces of trim that had broken off but been thoughtfully stored away in that bottom drawer, so I broke out the wood glue and the brad nailer and put them back.

I replaced the knobs on the drawer—one had snapped off in transit, and I was holding out until I found the perfect set of replacements (the original style of knob isn’t especially hard to find, except of course when you’re looking for them), but decided on this day to just replace them with the next best thing I had around. Amazingly, now I can use the drawer AND the gorgeous-even-though-they-aren’t-really-correct knobs look cute and who cares if I never replace them.

Then I wiped down the whole thing with the dregs of a can of Restore-a-Finish, which ran out before I got to the least-visible side and this, too, does not matter.

Someday I’ll have a little more Restore-a-Finish, and a couple of hours to stain and poly the shelves, and maybe the right set of knobs or even a better TV. But I’m kind of not worried about it.

Otherwise, I guess some other things have changed since last time I took photos of the bedroom? Nothing major. I move stuff around a lot. But I finally got a queen mattress for my queen bed! After spending a ton of time researching and comparing all the newfangled mattress companies, I had a nice night’s sleep at an Airbnb and found the mattress they were using for $200 on Amazon. It’s cheap and it’s firm. You can fill in that joke.

The big black and white art used to hang in the house I grew up in! It’s actually 1/2 of a diptych, but I only have a couple of walls big enough to accommodate the whole thing so in the meantime I just hung up one side here. Some people love it and some people hate it and that makes me sort of happy. It’s signed “Reizner 1975.” This is the wall I’d like to eventually add a mantel back to, since it appears one was removed at some point.

I dunno, I moved my lounge chair to another room and moved in my cutie little rocker. Nobody sits in bedroom chairs; they exist exclusively to collect laundry and fill awkward corners.

Mekko is still the cutest. Naked man is still naked.

 

I Went Away.

A month ago, I took a trip. I’m super duper extra #blessed to come from a family who loves to travel. They aren’t really the types to voluntarily take a long road trip or bop somewhere for a weekend—they like a Big Trip. I grew up with stories like that one time, in 1984, when my grandparents took their three kids and spouses to still-Apartheid South Africa. My father fell extremely ill, so the rest of the family decided to go on safari and leave him and my mother back at the hotel—which sounds fine enough, except that the hotel was really a collection of tents outdoors. Evidently, the wild baboon population had learned to pillage the campsite for food as soon as the tourists left, and so, as the rest of the family watched giraffes graze on acacia trees and lions drink from the watering hole and the beauty of nature unfold before their eyes, my mother sat quivering back at camp, hoping to avoid being torn limb from limb by wild apes. My dad, useless and feverish inside the tent, missed the whole thing. This is just how the Kanters unwind as a group.

So several years ago, my dad got it in his mind that The Next Big Trip would be a relaxing little mid-winter jaunt down to the continent of Antarctica. You know the one, at the bottom of the planet? Where people do not generally go because it’s very hard to get to and very cold and there are no beaches? That’s the one. That’s where I went. It was fucking unreal.

In case you’re curious, here are the basic strokes: we all flew to Santiago, Chile, where we were for a couple of days. Then we flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southernmost city in the world, and then boarded a ship called Orion. The ship is basically a co-production of National Geographic and a tourism company called Linblad Expeditions, designed to hold about 100 passengers and 60 crew members. They call it an “expedition cruise,” which is essentially their way of describing a situation in which you’re exploring, kind of, while also being very comfortable and having all your needs constantly met. Once boarded and safety-briefed, you begin to sail—a term, I learned, that does not actually require the use of sails to be accurate. You sail for about two days, much of it through an area where the Atlantic and the Pacific collide to form a notoriously rough area of ocean called Drake Passage. A lot of people get seasick. I did not, because I’m better than everyone else.

Once near the Antarctic Peninsula, the waters calm and everything looks insane. Like, am-I-on-a-different-planet-level-insane. Cool blue water and icebergs and crisp allergen-free air and the occasional sea bird trailing the ship. This is where the expedition part of the cruise comes in, because weather changes rapidly and ice conditions are constantly in flux, so the captain and expedition leaders are constantly forming and re-forming an itinerary until the sail back to Ushuaia. While in/around the peninsula, they aim to get you off the boat twice a day for about 3 hours each time (these are the expeditions), and the rest of the time is taken up by eating, sleeping, attending lectures, enjoying the ship’s bar, and sailing to the next place. Sometimes you encounter whales along the way.

Truth be told, I almost never want to hear about other peoples vacations, and this is not a travel blog, so I feel inclined to stop talking about it now. I got to go do an amazing thing. I feel really lucky about it. I wasn’t allowed to touch the animals. I was allowed to touch the ice. I learned a lot, and I love my family.

Altogether, we were away for three weeks. Which went quickly, but still seemed like an insane amount of time to be, like, a grown-up but not responsible for anything. To detach from normal life and experience something so…unlike normal life. So even though it was more physically/mentally involved than, say, 3 weeks on a beach, it did give me some time to just…pause. And think. And take stock.

Get ready, I have a lot of feelings.

I am not a person who naturally does that. I’m more of a busy-body, going about life with an urgency and focus reserved only for whatever is calling out the loudest for attention. Of course, the quieter things don’t just disappear. More often, they fester and grow somewhere just outside my line of sight, lurking off in the periphery.

Maybe this is why taking breaks usually feels stressful for me: it means pausing whatever is currently holding my attention, stepping back, and surveying the bigger picture. It means looking at that stuff in the periphery. Confronting the stuff that’s been flying under the radar. To me, that’s fucking terrifying. Overwhelming. It makes me feel absolutely horrible.

I’m not actually convinced that it needs to be this way, or that it will be forever, but it has for a while. And I’m not just trying to whine—it’s just me, telling you, that I’m recognizing a problem, which in turn effects this blog, and I’m working on it. And maybe some of this rings true for you, too, and maybe we can work on it together.

A few weeks ago on December 31, I was scrolling through a few photos on my iPhone when that “On this Day” feature popped up. I tapped on “On This Day: December 31, 2016”—New Year’s Eve, exactly one year prior. I had taken exactly one photo, of my friend’s front door when we arrived for her New Year’s party. The wreath from Christmas was still hanging up between the panels, and underneath was a black bumper sticker with white text reading, simply, FUCK 2016. I remember walking up to that door, laughing a little, and thinking something along the lines of “amen to that.

I also remember thinking the same thing about 2015. And maybe 2014, too, although some distance has made it more difficult to pinpoint exactly why. I know I felt that way about 2017, though—in a really big way—which quickly made me concerned that just maybe some of this feeling could be attributed to the common denominator of those years of my life: me.

Well, shit.

2017 was a rough ride. I am so not trying to play Misery Poker here. I’m well aware that there are enormous swaths of the population who have it a whole hell of a lot worse than I do. My life is actually pretty terrific, especially through the lens of blogs and instagrams and whatnot. So let’s dispense with that, for a sec.

I can take you through it, kind of. Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States. That sentence alone. What a thing to be playing out, like some sticky fog that’s in and around and over and under everything. It’s such a dark, horrible, oppressive, depressing and inescapable feeling/backdrop/preoccupation/threat. Many of you can probably relate. Some other stuff went awry, too. A big project I thought I’d be developing kind of vanished. Renovation plans I’d made for my house, derailed. Plans I’d made for bluestone cottage, still unfinished. A future opportunity that fell through at the eleventh hour. This other small job I ended up taking that turned unexpectedly large. A project we didn’t get to before the weather turned. The attempt to wean off my anti-depressants (why, Daniel, why?). I over-committed. I got distracted. My dog died. I messed up with my blog. I let people down. I still don’t have a kitchen. Anxiety won.

Avoidance and anxiety go hand in hand, I guess. At least for me they do. I’m attracted to motivational statements like “nothing will make you feel better except doing the work” because I know they’re true and I also know they are counter to how I act when I encounter anxiety. A lifetime of it (and several years of its sleepy, somehow even less fun companion, depression) taught me to avoid anxiety in order to make life more manageable. This is not unanimously a terrible strategy: if snakes make you anxious, avoiding snakes is not such a bad way to live? There are plenty of other valuable things you can spend your time dealing with than the thing that you don’t like. If you never hold a snake, does it really matter?

The strategy becomes intensely problematic when pretty much everything makes you anxious. Like little tiny things and also really big things. Hello, my name is Daniel Kanter. I have not been doing great, thank you for asking. I’m trying to be better.

Take, for instance: this past summer, I started working on a house for a couple of clients. I haven’t talked about it here. I wanted to, but client gigs are fast-paced and draining and don’t leave a lot of time for blogging—that is true. But that doesn’t mean there’s literally no time—I also wasn’t making it. After spending 8 hours a day working on a renovation, it’s difficult to then want to spend several more hours thinking about it, writing about it, editing photos of it…and so I didn’t. I didn’t write about anything else, either. For a few weeks this felt good.

Some handy self-deception quickly took hold. I wasn’t being a lousy blogger, I was just taking a step back from blogging. Because I’ve been blogging for 7+ years and I can take a few weeks if I want to. Nobody would notice, probably. The story I told myself was that I just wanted to focus on the work, without the distraction of a broader group actively commenting on something in progress. I told myself I didn’t want to be influenced by what I thought readers would want or expect to see (which is puzzling, because I don’t really think I am normally? this isn’t an actual concern of mine?) and just focus on doing right by the house and the clients. I told myself that blog readerships create a certain kind of pressure—whether the content-creator is aware of it or not—to keep doing the thing that’s gotten them recognition or did well on Pinterest or whatever in the past. This, I told myself, is why it can seem like a lot of bloggers show a stunning lack of diversity in their creative output, and I did not want to fall into that trap by prioritizing the constant need to be sharing whatever I was doing over just doing the best job I could at the thing that I was doing.

I’m not even saying that these thoughts/feelings/theories are incorrect. But I am recognizing them for what they mostly were: justifications. I was vastly underachieving at something that’s important to me, so I created noble-sounding reasons to avoid feeling that failure-anxiety. That doesn’t work for very long.

And so, the anxiety-avoidance cycle. It’s a self-sustaining system that never fails to compound. I didn’t just not blog. I pretty much pretended that I didn’t even have a blog. Like I didn’t even know what blogs were! I focused on “the work” (of playing contractor for a relatively short-term freelance project), and whenever I thought about writing a blog post, anxiety told me that I’d first have to sign into WordPress, and then I’d be confronted with the comments I’d missed—at this point, there might be somebody asking if I was OK, or dead, or stopped blogging entirely, or accusing me of only posting because of X, Y, or Z, or even just telling me they missed my posts—and any of those things would make me feel worse. So I didn’t look. Instagram became anxiety-provoking, too. Other blogs. E-mail. Texts.

It’s almost like the longer you avoid something, the scarier it becomes. FANCY THAT.

This anxiety-avoidance-anxiety loop told me that all of you must hate me. That I had been letting everyone down, and even if/when I did write a blog post, or even post a picture to instagram, it would be met with anger and resentment for having disappeared, or something. Or something—because as much as I can try to explain the specific fears behind anxiety, it’s never just one thing or one bad outcome. It’s all of them. And then, what do you even do? Like, I can’t not post for a few months and then just come back with some whatever post about whatevers-town. It should be awesome. Creating something that you feel confident will be universally viewed as awesome by a reader that already hates you is, you guessed it, anxiety-provoking primarily because it’s probably impossible. So I kept…not doing it. I actually waited until a blogger friend was in town, handed them my phone, rattled off my password, and asked them to moderate months of missed comments for me. I couldn’t face it. Having given it some thought, that’s…crazy. But it’s kind of how I’ve been about stuff.

When Linus died, I knew I had to tell you. It took me a few weeks. Part of that was because I was very sad, and grieving, and not really in the headspace to sit down and write a eulogy, but another part of it was the anxiety-avoidance thing. The loop that actually had me convinced that even on that post I was likely to receive a barrage of guilt and shame for being a shitty blogger, and I couldn’t deal with it on top of mourning my dead dog. Of course, you didn’t do that.

You never have. If legitimate fears need to be backed up by evidence or past experience, this fear is not legitimate. None of my fears about blogging—or most things that make me anxious, really—are all that legitimate. But that’s not how fears born of anxiety work. They’re not rational but they are persistent. They’re exhausting.

I hate this thing—this anxiety surrounding blogging and you. It’s not just a problem with blogging—it’s a problem in other areas of my life, too, in many cases for longer than this—but blogging? That’s new. I’ve always liked blogging I think because it felt separate from the anxieties of everyday life, like a relief from it, not an addition to it. So this thing where I can’t even sign into WordPress to check comments? It’s extremely unpleasant. And ultimately counter-productive, if the goal is to not feel like shit. Avoiding the thing that’s making me anxious is not helping. It’s making it worse.

In other words, I need to Stop That. Here and elsewhere in my life.

Reflecting on this past year, and the few preceding it, have me feeling a certain urgency to not feel this way in another 12 months. Also 9 months after that, when I’ll be 30. I don’t want to still be in this place, where anxiety still wins and everything feels like it has one or many loose ends to tie. So I’m, like, consciously trying to change my approach to things? I’m trying to take control of this situation. Make it better. It’s not just going to happen.

I want to get back to having fun—with life, with my house, with my work, and with this blog. I miss sharing. Not sharing doesn’t make me feel good; I know this now.

So since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to get into some new shit. I started going to acupuncture. We’ll see. I made haircut appointments for myself every month for the next year. I did a huge purge of digital clutter and reclaimed 170 gigabytes of hard drive space and avoided the need for a new computer. I’ve been aggressively getting the house in order. I began posting to Instagram again. I started a book club where all we do is indulge our secret fascination with self-help books by reading self-help books (//hoping we get something out of it no lie). I’ve been cooking more of my own food (my makeshift situation would be funny if it hadn’t lasted so long and was therefore so embarrassing/upsetting) and trying to take better care of my body. I’ve been working on creating boundaries at work and trying really hard to stop comparing myself to the success of others. I’ve been making goals and outlining plans and trying to give myself some goddamn tools to succeed. And I’m writing this blog post, and that’s something.

So that’s where I’m at. They’re steps forward. I’m trying, and I’ll keep trying. It’s good to see you.

I hope your 2018 is off to a good start. I’m excited to make this one better.

Life
Tagged:

My Buddy.

Back in March, Linus went through a rough patch that landed us, late one night, at the emergency vet’s office. The situation didn’t look promising. In discussing treatment with the doctor, there were a lot of qualifiers—“if he even makes it through the night” or “if we can administer his medication”—that kind of thing. Before departing, the vet warned me of the “difficult decision” I would likely be faced with in the morning, if nature hadn’t run its course. It was devastating. I was a disaster.

For me, grief tends to take one of two forms. There’s the more typical version: a lot of crying, wallowing in general despair, foggily moving through the motions of everyday life when loss is all you can really think about. And then there’s the arguably more productive kind, wherein I distract myself with some large but detailed task in order to fleetingly create the illusion that something in this terrible fucking situation is within my control and that things may, eventually, return to normal. On this night I gravitated toward the latter. I’d recently read the majority of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo—a 200+ page self-help volume that could (ironically, perhaps) easily be condensed to a set of bullet points in a pamphlet. Kondo’s book promises a better life if you can train yourself to abide by the simple principle of keeping only that which “sparks joy” and disposing of, literally, anything else. This is a person who threw her hammer into the trash but found that a cast iron skillet worked just as effectively for driving nails into the wall if she felt compelled to hang up a picture—so maybe take it with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, with Crisis Zone emotions coursing through me, I started in on my entire wardrobe. That’s how I found myself months later getting dressed for a wedding, only for a vague recollection of donating my joyless suit pants to surface. Grief messes you up.

He did make it through the night. In Brooklyn there were emergency vet offices that remained open 24 hours a day, but no such option exists here—meaning that for real round-the-clock care, you have to transfer back and forth between the vet that’s open during the day and the vet that’s open at night. We did this for a few days. Having dealt with my clothing, I moved onto my books.

His situation hadn’t improved, medical options beyond his normal regimen of pills had been exhausted, and the doctors felt that there was nothing left to be done. And that if I wasn’t ready to make that Tough Decision, I should consider taking him home for one last night—where, they warned, he was likely to pass on his own accord. So that’s what I did. I wasn’t ready, not remotely. And in spite of his condition—unable to stand or walk and exhibiting no appetite—something inside me felt that he wasn’t, either. Maybe he’d turn a corner. And so I bundled my roughly 15 year old dog in my sweatshirt, hoping for just a little more time.

Within 24 hours, Linus stood up. He walked around a little, and started to accept food in the form of boiled chicken breast and rice. He wasn’t keen on returning to his regular food, so in the ensuing days and weeks and—to the shock and awe of the staff at the animal hospital—months, he gained back the weight he’d lost on an increasingly elaborate diet of chicken and rice and raw beef tripe and human baby food and the occasional can of sardines. Long ago, I’d made a simple pact with this dog: as long as he wanted to stick around, I would do whatever it took to take care of him. Which, honestly, is a helpful thing to remind yourself of when handling raw beef trip first thing in the morning.

We needed more time, and we got it. Remember how I said this was back in March? That’s March 2016. A year and a half ago.

Linus stumbled into my life at the ripe age of around 10 (I’m taking for granted that you’ve read everything I’ve ever written, which is maybe unrealistic, so here’s that whole story) back in 2012.  The gist of the story is this: a tiny dog in horrible condition was mid-capture by Brooklyn police; a woman interrupted the encounter because she believed the dog lived on my block; I happened to pass this woman while she was trying to return the dog home; the dog didn’t live there after all; she couldn’t keep the dog; I volunteered to take care of the situation; I did so by eventually deciding to keep the dog. That night, I sat with him on the bathroom floor in my Brooklyn apartment and, for seven hours, worked to free his little body from what looked like years of matted fur and filth. Looking back later, this struck me as a bad idea on a number of levels. Imagine it: being taken off the streets by a strange person, brought to a strange place, and being subjected to hours of what was surely uncomfortable and painful grooming and bathing at the hands of that strange person. He should have bit me, and I couldn’t have blamed him. He should have cowered in fear and confusion. He could have given me rabies, or infested the apartment with fleas or bedbugs. But he didn’t do any of those things—instead I remember his patience and seeming understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. I remember him starting to lick me with this determined fervor, like he was trying to return the favor. When I nicked his paper-thin skin, he yelped once and licked my face, as though he knew it was an accident and forgave me immediately. After it was over and time for bed, we tried to confine him to the kitchen for the night but instead he stood by the door and barked until I let him into the bedroom. All he wanted was to be close.

I didn’t know how much I would grow to love him. I’d always had big goofy dogs, but after getting cleaned up Linus looked like he might have fallen out of some rich lady’s Prada on the Upper East Side. He didn’t chew or fetch or tug or really play at all. At the dog park he just sort of trotted around on his own. And despite what people will argue, teaching a dog that old new tricks is…well, he wasn’t interested, so I didn’t push it.

His joys were simple and small. Occasionally if he was feeling particularly active, he might start humping a throw pillow. He liked shredding (but not really eating) leafy greens like kale and lettuce. Sometimes he could really get going on gnawing a pizza crust—a rawhide for the dentally disadvantaged. But mostly, he just wanted to be close to me—really close—at all times. Even as his faculties dissipated, he somehow maintained the ability to detect my absence and track my whereabouts as soon as I would leave him alone in a room, even if he seemed to be sleeping soundly.  Evidently, this is a common trait with small dogs—to bond really strongly to one person, even in a family setting—but I couldn’t help but feel like he was abnormally fanatical about me. Maybe because the feeling was mutual.

Without question, he was the most good-natured animal I’ve ever known. One thing that always stuck in my mind about the account of his rescue was that allegedly officers were afraid to approach him because they didn’t want to get bit. Because he was showing his teeth and snarling. “He looked mean.” I literally cannot imagine this, because Linus greeted everyone—man, woman, child, dog, cat, rabbit, etc.—the same way: eyes bright, head upright on his stocky little shoulders, ears alert, scraggly little tail wagging in this circular helicopter motion that pretty much defines that phrase “I can’t even.” Exquisite cuteness aside, I think this is what I most love and cherish about Linus. That thing, right there—that approach to the world—that even now I have a hard time articulating.

I never got to know what the first decade of Linus’s life looked like, and I highly doubt I ever will. All I know is what I can surmise from the condition he was in when he found me, which remains hard to think about. That somehow my little man ended up that way. That someone allowed him to. It’s the kind of shit that can fuck someone up—human or animal. That can make the world seem scary, or threatening. That can make people seem bad and untrustworthy. That can make the task of survival feel like an extended exercise in fear and reclusion and anger. It seems to me that it takes a certain rare and resilient kind of character to bounce back from that. To move on from it all with love and kindness and the ability to trust when experience has taught you the opposite. I think that’s called grace. I think that’s strength. And bravery. I think that’s being a total badass. I never thought a 12 pound dog could show me that.

As anyone who’s reached this point with a pet can likely attest, caring for a geriatric dog can be challenging, particularly when the health issues begin accumulating. Due to his background, we’ve always had our share of medical challenges—starting with probably never having seen a vet, been vaccinated, neutered, trained to live in a house or eat dog food; the list goes on. His teeth were so badly rotted that nearly half of them came out during his first cleaning. His first night off the street, Max and I quickly noticed a muffled, huffy kind of cough that we feared might be contagious to Mekko, but learned was actually symptomatic of a collapsing trachea—a condition evidently common among small dogs. “Imagine your throat is like a camping tent,” I remember the doctor telling me, “and then all of a sudden the poles collapse. That’s more or less what’s happening.” Great.

Shortly thereafter, a heart murmur was detected, and then congestive heart failure entered the picture with an attending handful of prescription medications designed to keep his ventricles pumping and fluid from building up in his lungs. His liver and kidneys began to struggle—difficult to treat because those medications would interact poorly with the ones for his heart. At some point, any advances we’d managed to make with potty training went out the window, and the composition of my trash can became about 50% used diapers (or, more specifically, an unbelievably absorbent female incontinence product called Poise Pads that I bought by the hundreds, which happen to be the perfect size to line a “tinkle belt” made for dogs). Gradually he lost the great majority of his hearing, reacting only to very loud sounds. His sight, too: the left eye was declared worthless, while the right seemed able to detect changes in light and the movement of large shapes. He began to have a difficult time with his right front paw—arthritis, perhaps. He lost a few more teeth. The doctor thought he might have emphysema. At home, I wondered if he was afflicted by canine dementia, since he seemed unable to recall why—other than sunbathing—we spent time outside at various points in the day.

I realize to some people this all might sound crazy. Like I’m a Crazy McCrazy dog person who couldn’t accept what was plainly obvious. And at various times, I struggled with this—because I don’t see myself as a Crazy McCrazy dog person who would prioritize my own selfishness over the suffering of an animal. Quality of life is a hard thing to evaluate, particularly when the one living that life can’t speak for themselves. But he really did still seem like a happy dog, content to live out his golden years with his ten pills a day and his diapers and his collection of plush beds scattered around the house.

There are people who adopt elderly dogs on purpose, which I find exceedingly admirable. At 22, I know I wasn’t one of those people, and at 28, I’m still not sure that I am, though I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. If you’re a dog person, I probably don’t have to tell you what terrific companions old dogs can make. But the inconvenient and surprisingly taboo fundamental truth about adopting an older dog almost goes without saying : the more time that’s behind them, the less they’re likely to have ahead. So in taking responsibility for that life, you’re also sort of immediately confronted with the inevitability of death. Which, of course, could apply to all living things, but I think is much easier to ignore when you take home a puppy instead. I realize this probably sounds miserable—to live constantly with this sort of unpredictable specter of death, looming ahead at a distance that feels impossible to gauge. But I think in some ways it’s the opposite. You’re forced to face the thought of it, and as a result it becomes less scary. Less threatening. Another part of being alive. Time is precious and beautiful because of its limited quantity. Because it runs out.

Blunt as it might sound, I sort of hoped but also fully expected Linus would someday die in his sleep. It just seemed to fit with the order of things: this dog that slyly worked his way into my life, who followed his own rules and never seemed interested in observing mine. Who could bark endlessly—never, not once, out of fear or aggression, but because he wanted something and “no” did not register as an acceptable answer. Linus’s way or the highway. I always had this idea that I didn’t really own him, that he wasn’t really my dog. He had this whole past that belonged only to him. He might live in my home and accept my care and affections, but he’d still never really be mine. The idea of choosing to end his life for him seemed, for a long time, like an impossibility. It just didn’t fit.

After that scare in March 2016, it seemed apparent that our time left together might be very short.  He’d go through a few difficult days, and then he’d bounce back, and part of me began to believe that maybe he really would outlive us all. But the other part of me—the part more acquainted with reality—recognized that the time we had left, at this point, was borrowed, and I had to accept that it would soon come to a close. That he’d no longer be here. I think he fought for so long to make sure I was ready to handle that. That I’d be OK.

About a month ago, Linus’s slow decline seemed to speed up rapidly. It started out essentially the same as episodes we’d weathered before, but this time just felt different. I can’t really explain it. We went to the vet, who calmly and quietly confirmed what I already knew. It still hits you hard, to hear it. It’s still shocking to be presented the option of either doing it right there and then or waiting. I realized I’d spent more time trying to ready myself for the time after this—going home to one dog, filling one food bowl, being alone on the sofa while I wrote or watched TV—than the moment that precipitates it. The one where you have to say goodbye, the one that I hadn’t anticipated because I still expected to find him one bright morning, lifeless in his bed, gone on his own time. And again, I found myself unprepared.

There’s a Yiddish phrase that translates to “the way it begins is the way it ends,” and maybe the reason I deluded myself into expecting a different ending to this story originates from my misreading of the beginning. We decided to go home. The doctor could come to the house the next day. I held him all night and into the next morning, which turned into one of those perfectly crisp but sunny fall days where you’re warm as long as you stay out of the shade. We bundled up and sat in the sun for a while, and he seemed content. It’s weird, trying to fill that time when there’s an actual countdown. It feels really fast and really slow at the same time.

The doctor arrived. Mekko settled into a chair across the room. I held him close to me, and it ended the way it began—with him in my arms, safe, and granting me all the trust in the world that whatever I was doing was the right thing.

Choosing this conclusion wasn’t a punishment, I realize now. It was a privilege—one that he extended my way the night he walked into my life and chose to trust me. Chose to love me. Chose to be my dog.

Being your person was one of the great honors of my life, my handsome little man. I miss you more than words, and I’ll love you forever.

Life
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Let’s Go to the Auction! Tips and Tricks and A Big New Addition!

We all know I love vintage shopping. We all know I like a bargain. Good—glad we got that out of the way. See that rug up there? I bought it. For $40. At an auction!

There are lots of ways to find good deals on vintage/antique stuff: occasionally you’ll get a deal at antique stores, but I tend to favor consignment shops, thrift stores, salvage shops, flea markets, Craigslist, and the curb. Sometimes I venture into the land of eBay and Etsy but I like to see and touch and inspect things in person, so online shopping can be tricky. Also I hate waiting for shipping because I’m impatient.

In the past couple of years though, I’ve started going to more and more AUCTIONS! Auctions are my kind of fun: the people-watching is usually good, and I like seeing how much things go for even if I’m not really interested in them. It’s an exciting way to spend an evening…or afternoon…or morning…when ISN’T a good time for an auction, really? Especially if you’ve never been to one, though, the whole thing can be a little intimidating. In my experience, the general crowd at an auction seems to be largely composed of dealers—which is good if you’re not one, because you’re often bidding against people who have to be able to re-sell whatever’s for sale at a big mark-up for their attendance to be worthwhile. So if, like me, you have rooms to decorate and renovations to outfit, auctions can be an awesome resource once you get over the initial apprehension that might come along with trying it out.

Every auction house works a little bit differently, but here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way with the ones I’ve gone to!

1. Finding the auction! A quick Google search should pull up auction houses in your area. Most of them will have a website or at least a Facebook page giving some detail about the upcoming sales. Some places hold auctions on a regular schedule—once a week, typically—but others may be a few weeks between sales. Auctionzip.com is a great resource for finding sales in your area.

2. GO TO THE PREVIEW. ALWAYS. Before the auction, there’s a preview. Sometimes it’s a day or two before, and sometimes it’s just a few hours before the auction actually commences—usually the auction house will list this information, but just ask if it isn’t listed. GO. This is your opportunity to look at all the things for sale, and inspect anything you might actually want to buy. Usually there are paper copies available of the entire catalog that you can use for reference. I like to circle items that I’m interested in, and perhaps make small notes so I remember any flaws or repair work or whatever. There’s typically a LOT of stuff so it’s easy to forget—particularly if there are ten light fixtures you might want but two you REALLY want. You have to be able to remember which two! Obviously don’t break anything, but the preview time is there for you to touch things, open doors and drawers, and make sure it’s something you really want to buy. It may also allow you some time to check what similar items might be selling for online, so you have a point of reference for what a fair/good price might look like.

3. Bring a tape measure! You never know what you might find, and seeing a bunch of stuff sprawled out in an open space can mess with your sense of scale. You want to make sure you can fit whatever it is in your life!

4. If you can’t make it to the preview, your auction house might post the whole catalog online. The pictures are generally poor quality, but sometimes it’s enough to get a good idea. Sometimes, a few more items will be added to a sale that never make it into that online catalog, so going in person is definitely the best thing. If you can’t make it to the preview, though, sometimes it’s best to just skip the auction—purchases you immediately regret upon actually seeing them in real life suck!

5. Register to bid! The auction house will typically want your name, address and phone number, and then you’ll be in their system which makes the process faster next time. They’ll give you a bidder card with a number on the front, and typically a place on the back for you to fill in with your purchases. That space on the back of the card is really for your benefit—once you win an item, your number is noted in their system as the winning bid. But it’s good to keep track of your purchases yourself regardless—mistakes happen occasionally, and you don’t want to spend your whole paycheck!

If it’s your first time at an auction house, give yourself plenty of time to register—the registration counter will become crowded as the auction approaches, and you don’t want to miss the first items if you’re interested in them because you don’t have your card in hand yet!

6. Bring a checkbook! Or cash! On your winning bid, there is a buyer’s premium: essentially a percentage of your winning bid that gets added.  The buyer’s premium is usually between 10-20% of the winning bid, but many auction houses charge a lower buyer’s premium if you pay with cash or check instead of a card.

7. Lots: anything that goes up for sale as a unit is called a “lot.” When you bid on a lot, you buy it all—so sometimes a lot will be just one piece of furniture, sometimes it will be two chairs and a side table, or it might be a box lot like the ones above, which are just groupings of similar items that the auction house decides to sell as a single lot. Don’t disregard box lots! Even if there are 30 things in a box lot and you only want 2 of them, sometimes you can buy the whole thing for 5 bucks and then you just have 28 things to get rid of or resell or whatever. Ha!

8. Bidding! The actual bidding part is SUCH a rush but also sort of scary, so a few things are liable to happen: either you get so determined just to WIN that you end up over-paying and regretting it, or something is just going way too cheap so you buy it just BECAUSE and then you have shit you didn’t really want, or most LIKELY you get too nervous and flustered and don’t bid or stop bidding and then lose stuff that you actually would have paid more for if only you had a second to think! That’s the WORST. So I like to pencil in my maximum bid next to the item in the catalog (and keep that shit close to your chest!), so I don’t end up in any of those positions. It’s such a simple thing but makes a huge difference, I promise! Always know how high you’re really willing to go before you bid.

My rule: don’t be the first to bid, ever. Often, the auctioneer will open bidding at something like $100, and then nobody will bid until he drops down to $5. Let other people bid it up and swoop in toward the end if it’s still in your price range. You don’t want to be the dummy that raised your hand at $100 when you could have walked away winning for $30. At the same time, don’t wait too long because sometimes nobody will bid, and the winner is just the first hand up—so if you want it, be that hand.

Also, try to sit toward the center, in clear view of the auctioneer. It SUCKS to bid on something and the auctioneer just doesn’t see you. I like sitting more toward the back than the front—that way I can watch my competition. You can pick up a surprising amount from body language!

Also, also: SOME auction houses will have the entire catalog photographed and displayed on a slideshow so you know what you’re bidding on. Sometimes, auction house workers will carry each individual item up to the podium area as they come up. In the first case, bidding is more likely to go in order of the catalog—meaning you know if you can go to the bathroom or something because the next item you’re interested in is 20 lots away. When the catalog isn’t photographed, often they’ll just auction things off in the random order that the auction worker grabs them off the floor, so you have to pay attention.

9. Leaving a bid: If you can’t make it to the auction in person, you might still be able to buy stuff! You can usually leave a bid on an item with the auction house, and then your bid competes against bidders who are there in person. EDIT: if you leave a bid on a chair for $400, and the highest bid in the house is $50, you will win it for $55 or $60—whatever increments the auctioneer is increasing the bid at.

10. Phone and online bidding: again, if you can’t be there in person but might be able to bid in real time remotely, the auction house might be using a service like Auctionzip.com to allow online bidding. It’s the future! It’s kind of like eBay but way more intense: you have to sit there and wait for your item to come up, and then you’re bidding in real time against any other online bidders and whoever is sitting in the auction house. It moves quickly! For phone bidding, tell the house which lot you want to bid on, and they’ll call you when the item comes up and you can bid over the phone, much like you would if you were in the room.

11. Bring refreshments! Auction houses often sell concessions like hot dogs and sodas and stuff, but maybe you don’t want that? Bring your own! Even though each individual lot might only take 30 seconds or so between opening bid and hammer, the entire auction might last a few hours. Be prepared! For the love of god, leave your kids at home and don’t bring friends with short attention spans. Auctions are just too boring for some people.

12. It’s OK to leave early! If you’re over it, or everything in the catalog that you were interested in has already come up, snag the opportunity to beat the line at the end and check out early. It can take a while for everyone to check out, and then even longer for the house to bring out your items if you wait all the way until the last lot.

13. Be nice! Nobody likes a sore loser, so don’t be one. Also, if you have friends you go to the auction with, make sure you’re not competing!! If three of you want the same item, be open about your max bids then let whoever is willing to pay the most bid on it. It’s never worth losing friends over! With other attendees, don’t be an asshole! You never know if you’ll end up walking into that dealer’s store, and you don’t want to be remembered as that jerk from the auction. Also, you might start seeing items that you saw go at auction for $10 in a store for $200—knowing what somebody paid for something does not give you license to begrudge them what they’re reselling it for.

OK SO NOW THAT YOU KNOW HOW TO DO IT…wanna see a thing?

I went to an auction a couple weeks ago. I saw THIS. I was filled with FEELINGS.

SO I BOUGHT IT FOR $200 AND NOW IT IS IN MY BEDROOM! It’s so tall. It’s so beautiful. It’s so…not my usual thing! Where furniture is concerned, I typically like modern from the past 60-70 years or so, or really primitive kinds of antiques from before 1850-ish. Then again I can be a sucker for Art Deco, so I don’t know. This armoire is Eastlake style—call it 1870s. I normally don’t like Victorian furniture for myself, but I make an exception for Eastlake because it was really a reaction against what we think of as Victorian furniture—the SUPER ornate, Rococo-revival kinds of stuff. Although the style of my radiators are literally named “Rococo” and I think they’re incredibly beautiful. What’s my point?

I have no point, except that the way to Narnia is through my bedroom and I’m pretty psyched up about it. I really like waking up and seeing this thing.

Right now the inside is set up with a clothing rod, but…I want a TV in it. I know I just renovated the den and the bedroom, but I do kind of miss having a TV in the bedroom because I’m trash, but I also want it concealed because I’m an insufferable snob. It’s a delicate balance.

To tie this post together, this is part of why you go to the preview! The armoire is not in perfect shape—it’s missing a few little trim pieces and the lockset for the doors, but look what was hiding in that lower drawer! All the pieces! Plus a finial that doesn’t appear to match anything. So $200 and an hour or two of little repair work, and it’ll be good to go.

I love you, towering Eastlake armoire. Welcome home.

Ask for PURPLE! The Best Drywall for My New Kitchen.

This post is in partnership with National Gypsum Purple XP! #askforPURPLE

I feel like I tend to think a lot (overthink?) about the materials that go into a given renovation project. At this point, my brain is essentially trained to think about this stuff as I fall asleep every night: I picture a room I’m going to be working on, and then I toggle between combinations of beadboard and shiplap and beaded shiplap and tile and plaster and natural stone until my brain just sort of dissolves into a puddle and I drift off. The options are endless, so this method tends to be effective even when it takes hours to kick in.

One thing I never really thought about until very recently, though? DRYWALL. We all know it, we love it, we live with it, we might have even installed and/or finished it and/or patched it at some point. As a building material, it’s about as ubiquitous as 2x4s and nails…both of which I’m pretty sure I could come up with a few compelling things each to say about, but ask me about drywall? It’s…drywall. It’s what the walls are made of. What else do you want from me?!

Until very recently, a piece of drywall has been a piece of drywall in my mind. Some of it’s grey. Some of it’s green. Some is 3/8″ thick. Some is 1/2″. Some is 5/8″. But really, it’s all pretty much the same. Right? RIGHT???

NOT RIGHT. WRONG. I WAS WRONG. I’m often wrong. It’s one of my many charms.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel down to Charlotte, North Carolina to learn all about drywall with the folks at National Gypsum Company. National Gypsum has a fascinating history: they’ve been producing drywall since 1925, the production of which is still done entirely in North America. As I learned, the United States is naturally rich in gypsum—the main ingredient in drywall—which I suppose is part of why drywall was adopted so quickly and has remained the standard wall and ceiling material in this country for almost a century. At least in the States, it’s almost unimaginable to do any interior renovation or construction project without it.

More or less, here’s what drywall is: a slurry of powdered gypsum, water, and starch, between a couple sheets of paper. The slush dries and hardens and then it’s drywall! After hanging it onto your studs, the seams are taped and “mudded” with joint compound to create a seamless, flat surface that can be painted.

Fun fact: did you know (I did not know) that National Gypsum is one of the biggest recycled paper manufacturers in the country?? The papers that coat the front and the back of drywall have been produced by recycling old magazines and newspapers and cardboards since the 1960s! Before it was cool! I dig that. They’ve never especially made a point of this in marketing their products, but I think it’s so awesome!

Another fun fact: some of the gypsum used in National Gypsum’s drywall is mined from the earth, but a lot of it is actually synthetic gypsum, which is chemically the same compound. The cool thing about synthetic gypsum is that it’s essentially a manufactured by-product of other manufacturing processes, capturing stuff that would otherwise pollute the air and instead turning it into a useful material. What happens is coal-fired power plants work with National Gypsum to enact a flue gas desulfurization process in their coal stacks—basically allowing National Gypsum to clean their emissions before they go up into the air by combining Sulfur Dioxide in the emissions with lime (Calcium Carbonate) which forms pure gypsum through the !!!MAGIC OF CHEMISTRY!!! So that way, the emissions get way cleaner and emerge from the stack mostly as steam, and National Gypsum gets a lot of gypsum to use in drywall that we put in our houses. I just thought that was super cool.

ANYWAY.

Like most renovation-inclined folks, I rely heavily on drywall…so I’m not sure why I never took the time to really consider what type of drywall I was using. I have a lot of gutted spaces in my life right now (let’s think…my kitchen, the room above my kitchen, my 1/2 bath, soon my laundry room, the entirety of Bluestone Cottage—which, yes, is still happening—this other house I started renovating last week, another couple in the pipeline…let’s stop before the panic sets in?), and most of them will need a lot of drywall. And I have to confess something: I’ve pretty much always bought 1/2″ lightweight drywall and never given it another thought. I neither love it nor hate it, but I’ve tried to work around the realities of it by doubling up layers of 1/2″ drywall and skim-coating the whole thing to mimic the look and feel and sound-proofing qualities of plaster, which has been ok. But that’s really because I had no idea there were better products out there that already pretty much do that. WHICH IS SO EXCITING! Those products are called PURPLE XP and they feel so right. Also I really like writing PURPLE in all caps, like I’m screaming about it because I AM.

Taking a step back, let’s think about lightweight drywall for a second. Over the past decade or so, the market has largely dictated a huge rise in the popularity of lightweight drywall—which is a fine product, but also one with better alternatives. As one member of the National Gypsum team put it to me, “the only way to make lightweight gypsum board is to take the gypsum out of it,” which is essentially what all drywall manufacturers have done. Less gypsum, and more…bubbles! Quite literally, in order to make lightweight drywall, the gypsum-water-starch mixture in the core of drywall is cut with soap to create bubbles, which harden to a board filled with tiny air pockets where there would otherwise be gypsum. Of course, this leads to a product that’s less sturdy, less sound-proof, and has lower insulation value than a denser drywall board. Is this what we really want on our walls? I want my walls dense and solid and sturdy! If you really think about it, the only person lightweight drywall benefits is the contractor who buys and hangs it…so if you don’t Ask for Purple, that’s what you’re more than likely to get. It may have to be ordered at your hardware store of choice, but you can also find retailers here. Just ask!

So now that we have that cleared up, what is this magical PURPLE XP?  For starters, it’s what National Gypsum flew my ass down below the Mason-Dixon to discuss. It’s a line of drywall products. There are several different ones, and they each have their own drywall superpower. National Gypsum can probably explain this better than I can, but that’s never stopped me before from trying to stumble my way through talking about things I just learned about with feigned authority. Here goes.

What makes PURPLE XP, well, purple? Dye. Dye and clever marketing. Ha! But it’s the only purple drywall out there, so when you see it (and now that you know about it, I promise you’ll start seeing it!), you’ll know there’s actual awesomeness behind the color. First of all, ALL the PURPLE XP drywall is mold and moisture resistant (XP stands for “extra protection” and don’t ask me why it’s not “EP” because I’m only one person with only so much knowledge). It’s also all Greenguard certified for indoor air quality, which is a huge priority of mine up until the moment I inevitably start spray-painting something inside in the middle of winter and get high off fumes. Anyway, I aspire to high indoor air quality standards, and luckily it’s built-in with PURPLE.

There are four main types of PURPLE XP and they’re all totally cool:

1. PURPLE XP! Here is me in front of an enormous tower of it at the plant. YEAH, I GOT TO GO TO THE PLANT. Jealous?? Thought so. It was awesome. I love a factory tour.

PURPLE XP is basically your all-purpose PURPLE drywall and can be used anywhere, but especially anywhere where mold or moisture are even vague concerns/considerations. As a person with mold allergies who has also torn out my share of moldy drywall, I would absolutely use this in a whole house top to bottom. Except for where I wanted to use…

2. PURPLE Hi-Abuse XP! See that machine up there? I drew a handy arrow pointing toward the important part, which is a super rigid steel-bristled brush with a big weight on top of it, and its whole job is to scratch things really hard over and over again. There are actual machines for this! You go, little scratchy machine.

So on the left you have PURPLE Hi-Abuse XP and on the right you have regular lightweight drywall. Both went through the same test, and you can see that the brush didn’t even get through the PURPLE paper all the way whereas it literally dug through the normal drywall. Nuts! I am clumsy and constantly renovating, so I often accidentally scratch something against the walls when carrying materials around or tools down to the basement. I can totally see how awesome this would be in a space like an entryway or hallway or mudroom that might otherwise get scratched up. Rad.

3. PURPLE Hi-Impact XP. And hey look, it’s Kim! Hello Kim! But the point of this picture is not how adorable Kim is, it’s what she’s checking out, which is a sample of the fiberglass mesh that runs through the entire sheet of Hi-Impact XP drywall. Maybe you have a terrible temper and tend to kick and punch the walls? If so, seek help. But also seek better drywall, in the form of Hi-Impact XP because it is SO STRONG.

It looks like I’m pretending in this picture but I swear it’s real! They let us try this fun thing where we got to hit a hanging Hi-Impact board with this wooden bat, with the goal of making a hole. I have demoed lots of drywall in my life. I have accidentally made holes in drywall in my life. I couldn’t do it! It’s seriously intense.

That being said, it’s still drywall! It’s designed to withstand impacts like errant hockey pucks, the end of a pool cue, some bro’s angry fist, but it hangs just like drywall with regular screws and you can still hammer a picture hook into it and all that stuff.

4. PURPLE Soundbreak XP. The drywall that cannot really be appreciated in photographs but HOLY COW I’m so BEYOND happy to know this exists and to use it. It’s the one I’m most excited about, and makes me want to replace every stitch of inferior drywall in my house with this.

See how that image kind of looks like two sheets of drywall? It’s not—what you’re seeing in the middle there is a thin layer of special super magic stuff that’s designed to absorb and dissipate noise. And it works stunningly well. At the National Gypsum Technology Innovation Center, they have a little closet for demonstration where one side is finished with regular drywall and the other side with Soundbreak, and then they have speakers outside of each respective side that play loud sounds so you can hear the difference on each side. The difference is HUGE!

So, of course this would be great for multi-family buildings, nurseries, home theaters, wherever your teenager holds his jam-seshes with that friend who thinks he’s Led Zeppelin, that kind of thing, but my brain immediately went somewhere else that I find much more exciting. One of the best things about old plaster walls is how well they insulate noise—I really believe that you can often stand in a room and just feel whether it has plaster walls vs. drywall ones, just from how the sound reverberates and travels between rooms. Does this not seem like the PERFECT solution to addressing that difference?? I  have a feeling I’m going to be dealing with a LOT of Soundbreak XP in the future…it makes me want to put up drywall RIGHT THIS INSTANT.

Thinking about my kitchen (well, the room that was once and will someday again be my kitchen…yikes), I think I’m planning for tile around the room from baseboard to about 5′ high, and then drywall above that up to the ceiling, where I’m leaning hard toward beadboard! Since it’s not a space that sees direct water contact (like a shower or something), I’m planning on using PURPLE XP under the tile and Soundbreak above it. Evidently tile + Soundbreak is somewhat pointless because essentially the sound waves don’t penetrate the tile (physics, or something), so that’s why I think mixing products makes sense here. If all goes according to plan, the Soundbreak will make up for the fact that there’s no more plaster left in this shell of a room. Obviously there’s just a littttttle work to do before hanging drywall can happen, but I’ll keep you in the loop on how it goes down!

 

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