Some home decorating jobs are a stairway to resentment

April 13, 2002|By ROB KASPER

THE WHOLE domestic partnership thing - whether we are talking husband-wife, lover-lover, or boss-peon - is based on trust and open communication. Except when it comes to home-decorating projects.

Then, as soon as those little cards with dabs of paint colors appear on the scene, any relationship can get rocky.

If you change any part of the home landscape - even a drab part - feelings of hostility and resentment come out of the woodwork.

And even though you regularly communicate with your partner in subtle ways, once a hammer, saw and paintbrush are placed between, you can't agree on what is "ugly," what is "flush," and what looks "right."

All this became painfully apparent to me recently when I helped my wife fix up the kitchen stairs. It began with an apparently simple request that we "cover up the gaps" between the edges of the wooden steps and the wooden baseboard on the steps leading to the kitchen.

As happens in old houses and in long-term relationships, there was a history here.

Those gaps appeared after a section of shaggy green carpeting had been yanked up from the steps. My wife was not fond of that carpeting. She thought it was "ugly," "hideous" and "wrong." I thought the shag carpeting was functional. It muffled the sound of kids as they thundered down the steps. Moreover, it caught some, but not all, of the dirt that was tracked into the house from the back yard.

The shag carpeting disappeared maybe 10 or 15 years ago. That battle has been long gone, but not forgotten.

The other day, a mere mention of "working on the kitchen steps" stirred up my not-so-latent resentment of losing the shag-carpeting skirmish. While I offered my assistance in covering up the gaps on the steps, I was not in a very helpful frame of mind.

I went over to the neighborhood hardware store and bought some 8-foot long sections of quarter-round. Walking along the street with a long strip of wood in my hand, I felt like a warrior toting a spear. That improved my mood.

At home, I cut my spear into 10-inch lengths, then placed them on the edges of the steps. To me, the pieces of wood looked fine. They covered up the gaps at the edge of the steps.

But to my wife, they looked "too fat" and "ugly." Their ends, she said, needed to have a sculpted, tapered look. I told her I didn't do tapered. I didn't have the tools - a miter box and a coping saw - or the sawing skills.

I seethed, for about a week. The following Saturday I sought solace at the neighborhood hardware store. There, Mickey, my mentor in many domestic matters, pointed me to thinner molding. These were long but skinny pieces of wood, normally used as trim on screen doors. I bought a couple of lengths. When I carried them home, they bounced in my hand, feeling more like fishing poles than spears.

The thinner molding was wide enough to cover the gaps on the edges of the steps without looking "fat" and "unsightly."

To cover the gaps, my wife and I formed a team. She measured the length needed for each step, marking the correct distances with a pencil. Using a saber saw, I cut the molding at her marks. This way we could share the blame for any mistakes.

There were not many. Once the pieces of wood were painted, they looked pretty good. At first, my son and I objected to the color of the paint my wife had chosen. It was, we thought, too green, too bright and too much of a change from the dull, faded wood we were used to seeing.

But after a week or two of looking at it, we got used to it. Moreover, we have been told that the color of the paint matches the carpeting that is supposed to be installed on the steps this week.

This new carpeting will be a runner, not a wall-to-wall job. Instead of the old shag, the new stuff will have a fancy, textured pattern. But at least there will be some carpeting on the kitchen steps, and there will be no gaps on the edges of woodwork.

And there will be peace on the home front, until the next home-decorating project arises.

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