Going over “The Edge”

If I were a Puritan and a fashion blogger, I wouldn’t have to worry about what to wear/blog about for the fall because it would be nothing but hair shirt.


I mean, what kind of blogger gives the first part of a two-part story and then leaves it hanging for weeks? One who should likely be punished for abusing her readers so.

Luckily (for me), I am  neither a Puritan or a fashion blogger, so I won’t have to go there. I will, however, finally finish the story of barking wieners, spontaneously shattering glass, janky walls, and edges that I began right here.

When I left off, we had a broken glass door, a wall with painted-over wallpaper, and a room with different-colored walls and different kinds of window trim. Although I debated the true start of this story, the true start of the story-telling was this image, which I used for a photography challenge’s theme of “edge.”

august break edge

This image focuses on the janky wall, and  here is what I want to say about that:

Everything anyone has ever told you about how it’s more trouble to try going around a problem than through is right. I mean, I know this, but it seems to be a lesson I have to keep learning.

When we first moved in to our house four years ago, we didn’t want to work through the problem of this obviously bad wall job. So we went around it by slapping some paint over the wallpaper and telling ourselves that it was all good.

It wasn’t. It didn’t look good, and it just bothered me, knowing that we’d taken a problem and compounded it. It wasn’t something I lost sleep over, but every time I noticed something that reminded me there was paper under that wall’s paint, it niggled at me.

Nonetheless, I was none too pleased when Cane casually threw out this summer that we should probably strip the wallpaper off the wall.

“What?!?” I may have sputtered. “You said that we were NEVER going to take the paper off! You said that the wall was a HUGE problem that we weren’t going to want to deal with! THAT’S the ONLY reason I agreed to paint over it!” (Yes, there was some all-caps going on during this conversation.)

“Oh,” he said, CALMLY, “I don’t think it will be any big deal.” (Isn’t is infuriating when someone is calm in the face of your all-caps rant? It’s like the calm is its own kind of all-caps. A much classier kind than yours, which makes it all the more infuriating.)

But why, you may be wondering, was this even an issue at all? Isn’t this story really about the door that shattered? Isn’t that door on a different wall?  How are these things even connected?

Actually, I’m no longer even sure.

I think it started with replacing the wood trim around all the windows in the room.

living room wallpaper

This is the living room right after we moved in, when all the trim was painted white. You can also see the wallpaper we painted over. This was taken standing in front of the sliding glass door.

Replacing the wood trim is something I was not originally on board with.

“Why would we tear out perfectly good trim and replace it with perfectly good trim just because we can’t figure out the right color to paint it?” I asked Cane, who wanted to put in new, stained trim. “That doesn’t seem to be very in keeping with our values. You know, re-use, upcycle, don’t rape the planet and all that.”


In this other old photo you can see two of the windows with trim painted brown, our first “fix.” We stripped the paint from the mantel, where you can see stained wood. We have long wished that all the wood had been left in its original state.

He couldn’t really argue with me; he acknowledged the validity of all that, but still:  He just really wanted to replace the trim. So he did one window, and I had to admit that I really did like it much better.

“I know it’s wrong,” I said. “But it just feels so much more right than the painted trim.” Although preserving the planet’s resources is something we do value quite a lot, another thing we value is preserving old homes. We love homes that show their age (in all the right ways), and as much as we can we’ve wanted to let our home show it’s 70s roots without shame. We know this house originally had dark-stained wood trim, and when Cane put that back on one of the windows, I wanted it on all of them. So he started swapping them out, one wall at a time, and I’d repaint the wall while the trim was off.

wood trim closeup

We’d worked our way through re-trimming and re-painting the two biggest walls of the room, and then stalled when we got to the one with the sliding glass door.

Although we love us some original home features, this was one original feature we didn’t much love. The glass was perpetually cloudy (broken seal). It let in tons of heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Because of both things, we hung curtains over it, which seemed just kind of aesthetically weird.

This is another old photo. We were never happy with this fix.

This is another old photo. We were never happy with this fix.

So, Cane wasn’t crazy about the idea of swapping out the trim around this door that just wasn’t right. Why put in new trim if that door was going to be coming out later? But:  We weren’t feeling like replacing the door was a high-enough priority to do it anytime soon. And what kind of door would we put in, anyway? We chose by not choosing, and we were just living with all the different wall colors/window trims. You can do that just fine, you know?

Then, the door gods decided to make us choose by smiting our door for no good reason.


We went around and around on what to replace the door with. Because we don’t actually use the room as a dining room, we thought about putting in a more conventional door that would make more of the wall a solid wall. That, of course, would require re-building part of the wall and messing with the siding on the outside of the house. Big hassle and more money.

We thought about putting in French doors, because:  French doors. Everyone loves French doors and no one loves a sliding glass door. But French doors cost more, and that’s not in keeping with the original design of the house.

We thought about sliding glass doors with little blinds built into the glass, so that we could have the insulating benefits of curtains without having to have curtains. Again, cost more.

We spent several months hemming and hawing and visiting various places to buy doors and trying to figure out some way to do this that wouldn’t cost a boatload of money AND would give us a door we actually liked, rather than tolerated/tried to work around.

Eventually, we decided there wasn’t any way to fix this problem right without spending a boatload of money. The easiest, cheapest solution would have been to buy a budget slider, the kind with bright white plastic trim that would not look very nice (to us). And would still be a significant sum of money, and I’d likely still want to cover it with curtains.

It was just grinding on me, the idea of spending a good amount of money on something I would not even like.

So, we decided to bite the bullet. We ordered a wood Pella sliding door with low-e glass. No need for curtains or built-in blinds, and this choice would be closest to the house’s origins. We bought it unstained, so that we could  match it to the window trim Cane’s been putting in.


And, oh yeah, we paid for installation, too.”No DIY,” I said. I am not willing to mess with possible water issues and/or messing up that beautiful, expensive door.” Cane agreed.

And so we had the door installed, and Cane put in new trim around it, and you know what? It’s beautiful.

My photos are not going to capture how lovely this room feels now. I have neither the skill nor the time required to compensate for my skill to get really good shots of a light-filled room. But it feels great in here.

My photos are not going to capture how lovely this room feels now. I have neither the skill nor the time required to compensate for my skill to get really good shots of a light-filled room. Be we love it. Even our kids who have not liked many of our house changes like this one. That feels like a huge win.

I have come to understand that sliding glass doors are not, by definition, ugly. This door makes me love sliders, something I didn’t think possible. It is so right, I can’t believe we even thought about French doors or partially closing the wall. We love all the light that comes in, and we love all the dark wood. It feels as if it’s the way the house was supposed to be. It’s something I’m not going to be able to capture in photos, but it feels like we healed this part of the house.

It's not just an aesthetic healing. This was installed during a week of 90+ weather. We felt the difference in insulation quality instantly. No need for curtains! Yay!

It’s not just an aesthetic healing. We felt the difference in insulation quality instantly. The new door works so much better, too. It slides easily and has a working lock.

This brings us to the adjacent, janky wall. That wall has trim, too, around the opening that leads to the kitchen. After we put in the beautiful new slider, the janky wall and it’s painted trim just seemed unacceptable to both of us. Cane refused to change the trim until we fixed the wall color, and I refused to put more paint on the paper. We were at a standstill.

“Let’s just tear off the paper,” he said.

And then he did like he does, and he just started tearing.


And you know what? It wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, this was the easiest wallpaper removal we’ve experienced. So much for conventional wisdom. It seemed as if the paint made it easier for the paper to come off in nice, big, satisfying strips.

The wall underneath it was kind of janky, just as we suspected. Cane put a skim coat over the whole wall and sanded it down. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfectly fine. We still have the weirdness at the base of the wall where it was clearly added onto, but the baseboard covers it, and we have a bookcase in front of it. That doesn’t niggle at me the way the paint over the paper did.

We had a fair amount of this kind of thing under the wallpaper.

We had a fair amount of this kind of thing under the wallpaper.

And some of this happened.

And some of this happened, too. But that was pretty easy to fix.

In the very first post that led to this two-parter, I said that there was a breakthrough in this story. It was a breakthrough in understanding, and here’s mine:

  1. The “easy” way is often a harder way.
  2. Things that are supposed to be hard are not always hard.
  3. Sometimes, it’s worth it to pay more.
  4. What’s “right” isn’t always clear/easy.

I do still feel pulled by competing desires to preserve resources and restore this house to its more original glory. What I’m seeing, though, is that these may not be as competing as I once thought. We like this room so much better than we did when we were trying to slap some lipstick on the pig of old renovation mistakes, rather than truly fixing them. Maybe, doing that is a way to preserve the whole house. Maybe, it will make this house more lovable, so that the next owners won’t feel the need to spend money and resources fixing what ain’t even broken.

We sure love it way more now than we did when we first moved in.

This is what the space looked like during our pre-buy inspection.

This is what the space looked like during our pre-buy inspection.

This is another old photo. We were never happy with this fix.

One of our many iterations of this space. Painted trim on the window, curtains covering the door.


How it looks today. When we swapped out the trim we also changed the blinds on the window.

Of course, in true give-a-mouse-a-cookie fashion, I’ve now got my sights set on the kitchen. The wood trim around the opening to that room makes me want to swap out all the painted window trim in there. Which brings up the question of the tile backsplash that butts up against the trim. Which is horrible because the grout is stained beyond fixing, but changing the backsplash means changing the countertops, too. And if we’re going to change the countertops, we really should do something about the cabinets covered in laminate that are starting to peel…


27 thoughts on “Going over “The Edge”

  1. Rachel H. says:

    No hair shirt needed Rita. You have a busy life. We will take what we can get when you get inspired. Good lessons about life there…not just home improvement. Looking forward to your kitchen saga. We had pressed board laminate cabinets that were curling and melting and doing strange things. We knew we couldn’t fix them so we moved:) Good kitchen now but a long list of other improvements needed. It never ends!

    • Rita says:

      Those cabinets sound exactly like ours! The cabinets are fine, but the laminate is starting to separate from them. It’s a shame–the hinges are high-quality, and the cabinets themselves are function pretty well. I don’t want to move just to escape this problem! 🙂 And we’re starting to think that we’ll need to fix it before we can think about selling the house, which we know we’ll want to do at some point, though perhaps not for quite a long time.

  2. Lisa says:

    The slider looks great–like it was a part of the house to begin with. The chandelier also looks like it was original, although I can see in the before pic it wasn’t.

    Fighting against the “if you give a mouse a cookie” problem is hard…I had a colleague who came into work one morning and said “I don’t understand how my wife turned a $20 gallon of paint into $7,000 of new everything.”
    Lisa recently posted…frugal living: tracking all the dollar billsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I shared this comment with Cane, who laughed out loud. Made us think of our total bathroom remodel, which started with one loose shower tile. And no, the chandelier wasn’t original. Sometimes this house looks disjointed because we’ve still got elements of 90s updating with the period pieces we’ve put back in. Can’t eat the whole jar of cookies at once, you know? But I think the slider took us over some critical edge back to the house’s origins (though the original door wasn’t nearly as nice). We’ve been really encouraged by a 70s house in our neighborhood that was recently flipped, in all the right ways. They actually kept all the original kitchen cabinets, but refinished them. They look amazing. Kept all the original woodwork and didn’t paint it white. Still has all the original doors throughout the house. But, new paint, new flooring, new countertops in the kitchen. Showed us how great even a 70s split-entry can look, and that good design looks great no matter what era.

  3. Shannon says:

    Your new slider looks great, Rita! Issues we’re waffling over have a way of eventually declaring to you, “You will now address me!”, be it in the home or otherwise. Your line, “…smiting our door for no good reason.” made me laugh out loud. I have sliding glass door issues as well. The biggest of which at the moment is that I cannot open it because a gigantic spider has taken up residence between the door and the screen and I cannot get him out…he crawls inside the door frame and hides at the slightest movement. I’d rather he didn’t end up on my side of the door. Anyway, always fun to see pictures of your cozy, friendly house. 🙂
    Shannon recently posted…The 9 Stages of Discovering My Breast LumpMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Oh, you are so right about the waffling issues. I know the door breaking was actually a gift. We would have gone years without making this change if there’d been no compelling reason to, and I’m really glad we were forced to do it now. We’re realizing we’d rather enjoy the improvements while we’re living here, rather than make them all right before we want to sell to someone else. Think we’re finally going to get serious about finishing our entryway next…but nothing big will happen there for awhile now that we’re back in school. Always fun to hear from you. 🙂

  4. Marian says:

    First off: YES! to “Isn’t is infuriating when someone is calm in the face of your all-caps rant? It’s like the calm is its own kind of all-caps. A much classier kind than yours, which makes it all the more infuriating.” (This is my husband, too: ever calm, ever small caps; his unflagging reasonableness sometimes drives me crazy).

    Your house looks so warm and cozy; the contrast between the before and the after is amazing, and the door is beautiful.

    It’s interesting to me that you talk about “healing” your house. This is precisely what I feel we’ve done with our house. My husband maintains he’s loved this house right from the get-go, which is something I have a hard time believing, considering what a nightmare of a fixer-upper it was. It felt like a completely unloved and downtrodden house, and it was a very, very difficult thing for me to feel this was the place into which we were bringing our family. But although it took me quite a bit longer than my husband, I love the house now, too. It’s a silly thing to say, and I don’t REALLY believe it, but it feels almost as if the house might be able to tell that it’s inhabited by people who care about it, who want to make things “right”. That’s a pretty fanciful thing to imagine; perhaps it’s better to say that if you send healing “vibes” into a place by fixing it up, you’re simply sensing your own care and concern reflected back to you.
    Marian recently posted…Goldilocks KnittingMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      As is true of so many things, you and I are much alike in this. I did not love this house; in fact, I passed on it the first time I saw it. But the real estate market was mighty slim in 2011, which is when we needed to find a new place to live. We made a conscious decision to love this house. Tearing out most of the carpet right away and putting in cork floors helped us see the positive features in it, and made it easier for us to see that it could be a place we love. It really is now, despite the funky elements that remain. I didn’t so much feel that our house was downtrodden and unloved, though. I could see that someone had put quite a bit of care (and money) into it. It didn’t work for us because we thought they’d tried to make it something it isn’t, though, and some of fixes weren’t the best quality. We’re rather fond of its humble roots and would rather have a nice, modest split-entry than a wannabe McMansion.

  5. Diane says:

    LOVE the new door and the whole feel of your room. And I know how you feel. When we fixed up our beach cottage 3 years ago, we just accepted that a double bed was all that we could have because it’s what would fit with the buil ins in the trailer part of the house. As cute as it was, I hated sleeping there because I was uncomfortable sharing that little tiny bed with my 240 pound husband. We tossed around all kinds of ridiculous solutions, including placing ottomans next to my side of the bed so I could throw an arm or a knee off. Two weeks ago, we finally decided just to remove the stupid built ins and buy a queen size bed. Now the bedroom feels bigger even though we’ve added a bed that’s wider and longer, and we are finally able to get a good night’s sleep there. It took 4 hours and a quart of paint to demo and repair the room before we brought in the bigger bed. It’s what we should have done in the first place. Sigh…..

    • Rita says:

      I really like the changes you made to that space. Part of me mourned the loss of built-ins (I just love built-ins), but a space has got to function well before anything else. I can totally relate to this story. I think the stuff we were doing with curtains on our slider was a lesser version of that. Isn’t it great to have a comfortable place to sleep? We bought a new bed frame this summer–to replace the super-cute mid-century one I got to replace the cheap Ikea one. The cheap Ikea one gave us so much better support. I came to hate the one with style, and couldn’t believe how wonderful it was to get a better functioning bed again.

    • Rita says:

      If you bring pie and promise to rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher, I think we can arrange to swap you out for one of our kids. Actually, we’d probably do that even without the pie, if you’ll rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher. But we do love pie. I know, you can bring pie, and we won’t hold you to the the whole dishes thing, and you’d still be ahead of the kids on the “good roommate” scale. 🙂

      We are actually not patient at all. And I may have commented at some point this summer, “You know, I really don’t like the Y part of DIY much at all. I don’t much like ‘do,’ either. I much prefer ‘having done.'” We are just very, very stubborn.

  6. May says:

    I think you will absolutely love the door. Our house was built in 1931. It is a colonial with the fab sunroom on one end. It also has a mud room in the rear which is surrounded in windows. These two spaces are what sold me on the house. We have renovated those two rooms changing out Soooooo many original windows with the Pella ones with the gas between two panes of glass. Best thing we ever did to this place. Our use of those two rooms has easily tripled. The cost was hefty, but worth every penny. And -yes- we paid to have them installed too. Way too much pressure on the marriage to DIY this one!
    May recently posted…Mère-Days: OutdoorsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I love those sunrooms. Every time we pass a house with one I tell Cane I want to buy a house like that. 🙂 I imagine myself reading away winter afternoons in a room like that. (I have an active fantasy life.)

  7. Sarah says:

    Well, I think you’ve just definitively proven that it’s better to give a mouse a cookie than put lipstick on a pig. The new door is GORGEOUS. Even though the 70s aesthetic is not mine (I know it kills you a little bit every time we paint another piece of stained wood trim in our house white), seeing those images I can appreciate that it IS an aesthetic, and yes, your house looks like the house it was meant to be. Well done.

    I think my attitudes have evolved in similar ways as yours over the period that I’ve been reading DIY/design blogs and also writing a blog of my own. At first I was really excited by the idea of DIY, upcycling, etc., etc. Now I realize a lot of those early projects were cool ideas but don’t really look that great in the long term (or even right away, if I’m being totally honest). I’m sure this will sound like rationalizing to some, but I think that in the end doing something right actually involves fewer resources, because if you do something right you only have to do it once. (Plus, fewer financial, mental, and time resources as well as environmental ones.) These days I really want to be thoughtful about what we do to our house and find things that will work long-term.

    Also I want to master “classier all-caps.” So, you know. Life goals!
    Sarah recently posted…Finished object: Pencil shirtMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Yeah, I’m right there with you. I really like some of the DIY projects we’ve done, and think they will hold up. But some of our failures have helped me look at some of the DIY projects I see online with a more critical eye. I think a lot of things probably look pretty good in photos, but not so much in real life. I’ve realized I can sew a pretty mean pillow cover, but upholstery is never going to be in my bag of tricks. When I find some beat-up something and envision it all fixed up, I now calculate the cost of the fixing (including my time); much of the time, I can now see it’s really not much of a bargain. We have been stalled on re-doing our entry/stairs for about 2 years because we were trying to find inexpensive solutions we could do ourselves–but we didn’t really like any of the ideas we had that fell within our skill set (including the ones we actually tried). This door experience is showing me that it’s OK to spend some money and hire out at least some parts. It’s looked pretty crappy for two years, so another one while we save up some money won’t make much difference!

      • Marian says:

        I have to chime in here, about the stairs …

        I’m pretty sure I found your blog because I was doing a search for DIY stairs, and as I’ve mentioned to you before, we did our basement stairs ourselves, following Cane’s instructions (we even made a stair measuring tool like his). The stairs themselves turned out really well, although due to the construction of the stringers and railing, it’s not a perfect staircase-as-a-whole outcome. Perfect for basement stairs, though, and it saved us a lot of money. But when it came to our main staircase, we did decide to go with a professional. I did all the pre-staining of the wood, so we saved where we could, but we figured that something THAT important — something a prospective buyer would see immediately upon entering the house (and because of my husband’s job, we always have to consider re-sale) — shouldn’t be the place where we skimp. And, as I watched the whole process I knew without a doubt: sometimes you can do things yourself, and sometimes there’s good reason to call in the professionals.
        Marian recently posted…A Heart of Eggs, Food Waste, and “Mom, My Friends Think It’s Funny…”My Profile

        • Marian says:

          And it’s just now occurred to me that my comment above could be taken to mean I think DIY stairs are only ever suitable for the basement, where hardly anyone will see them….so I just wanted to elaborate and say if it weren’t for the fact that we were dealing with more than just treads and risers (we were needing to make changes to the stringers and railing as well) we might have been comfortable DIYing our main staircase as well …
          Marian recently posted…A Heart of Eggs, Food Waste, and “Mom, My Friends Think It’s Funny…”My Profile

          • Rita says:

            I think it depends upon what you’re doing. Stringers are way beyond our skill set! I think our entry stairs are going to be a combo job–a little DIY, and little pro.

  8. Kate says:

    I think the “Give a Mouse a Cookie” aspect of home improvement affects all of us. The thought of replacing my son’s desperately-needing-to-be-replaced carpet waterfalls into completely gutting the kitchen. This sounds illogical when you start at one and get to the other without naming all the steps in between, but both my husband and I get there every single time we talk about how Abram’s carpet really DOES need to be replaced. So we do nothing and keep saving our pennies.

    I love your new slider. It looks perfect in the space. I’m a big believer in good windows and doors (and having them installed professionally) and updates that honor the design of the original home.
    Kate recently posted…MemoriesMy Profile

  9. Laura says:

    As a fellow victim of door smiting, I found myself nodding my head a lot reading this post. I have felt all your feels about this sort of thing. Even the woodwork, though I’m heading in the opposite direction, because the kitchen addition of my house is 1960s era and dark wood stained, whereas the original 1930’s colonial style was painted woodwork and paneling. But that “edge” of transition will take time, and look sort of weird and mismatched as we go through the iterations as I can afford them. One thing I can definitely say is that aesthetics aside, this door was worth every penny. For once it was bearable to be in my kitchen at 5 p.m. on a hot july day, instead of miserable. I expect a less drafty kitchen this winter too. Enjoy! I know how good it feels.
    Laura recently posted…Room for ChangeMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Let’s coin a new style: Weird and mismatched. (A little more truth in advertising than “eclectic,” don’t you think?) We’ve been rocking that one for more than 4 years now! It’s nice to feel we are finally turning some corner on that, though it makes the original unoriginal elements jar that much more. And I do enjoy this new door! Isn’t it amazing how much a door affects quality of life? I’d never have thought that could be.

  10. Jen says:

    This gives me quite a bit to think about. We have a slider that goes from what is our dining room into the mancave, and I hate it. Hate it, hate it, HATE it. We’ve been contemplating alternatives – french doors, a new slider, a barn door. But perhaps what the problem really is that the slider we have is cheap and nasty and we just need the right one. Hmmmmmm…
    Jen recently posted…Photo Friday – Return to Lake MarsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I hated ours, too. Never would have thought I could love one. Ever. But I do. I’m glad we really explored all the possible alternatives and gave ourselves plenty of time to think about it.

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