Makeover is labour of love

I’m hiding in the bathroom before school on Friday morning, lying to my kids about being sick. I need to get my daughter Bethany, a decorating show addict, out of the house this weekend so we can do a surprise makeover of her bedroom for her ninth birthday. If she thinks I’m sick, she won’t question the unusual opportunity of a double sleepover at her friend’s house.

As soon as my three kids leave for school, I rush into Bethany’s room and start clearing it out. Months of planning and shopping have gone into this mid-November weekend, to transform Bethany’s room from a little girl’s pink space into a more sophisticated, Asian funky retreat.

The makeover idea began percolating in my mind in July, when I found some intricate hand-beaded pillows on sale at HomeSense for $15. I’ve always wondered if an ordinary person, with no budget for a decorator, could do a successful room makeover in a weekend, like they do on The Decorating Challenge or Debbie Travis’ Facelift. My husband Steve was less enthusiastic.

“I don’t have the tools or skills of the carpenters you see on TV,” he said. “And what if she decides in two years she doesn’t like it?”

“This room will be so grown up she’ll love it through high school,” I replied. “And your projects won’t be as detailed as the ones on TV.”

He gave in, but I sensed potential friction between the carpenter and designer.

Armed with a $600 budget, I was on a mission to eliminate clutter while creating a room that reflected Bethany ’s eclectic, vivacious personality.

Since the dresser was too small for my “fashionista,” I designed floor-to-ceiling cubbies of different sizes, with baskets to hide clothes and CDs. At eight feet high and six feet wide, the cubbies would provide five times more storage space than her dresser. The wood cost $250 and it took Steve more than a day to make, but it was cheap compared to the price of an ordinary dresser.

Clearing the room and prepping the walls took forever. I’m midway through Day One and I already feel behind.

“Yuck, the walls are brown,” says Amanda, my 10-year-old daughter as she watches me paint. “And why is one wall purple?”

Actually it’s taupe and I know it’s a colour Bethany will love. The purple wall is there to accent the room.

Steve arrives home from work with the wood for his three projects — the cubbies, a table top and screens for the closet doors. By 11 a.m., we have our first argument. He’s made the bottom cubbies too high for the baskets and you can see into them. I wanted them to fit snugly into the shelving.

“You’re being too picky,” he says.

Two important decorating lessons are learned: Don’t start a new project at night and don’t assume the person you’re working with understands your directions.

On Day Two, I wake up with stiff, swollen hands. The entire family is put to work.

Amanda paints the desk and bedside table; five-year-old Ian paints stars that will be glue-gunned to a mirror; I start on the trim and my dad spray paints the daybed. Steve resizes the cubbies, but the design change costs him an hour and a half of precious time.

The hours pass faster than usual. Meals are on-the-go snack food. Stress levels rise every time we check our watches, which is often. I curse myself for choosing black for the trim and cubbies. It takes three coats to cover and I worry that it might be too extreme. I ask my dad about the black trim.

“It’s fine if you like black,” he says.

I feel much better.

By day’s end, Amanda announces she is through painting. Since she’s managed to create a trail of black paint on the walls throughout our house (from paint on her shirt), I don’t argue. Ian escaped earlier to a neighbour’s house. Steve works on the cubbies until they’re finished and I don’t stop painting until midnight.

On the third and final day, I wake up early, my adrenaline pumping. Steve and I are on our own. My dad, Amanda and Ian have had enough.

The two of us have until 4 p.m. to finish painting the cubbies; construct and paint the table top; create the closet door screens; put the bed together; hang the curtain rod; clean up the mess and put the room together.

“I’m sure they do reveals with wet paint on TV,” Steve says as he starts attaching fabric and wood moulding to the closet doors. When he’s finished, the doors look like they are silk screens.

It’s a hectic final day filled with short tempers, a broken mirror, paint splatters on the wall, and a couple of unfinished craft projects.

I call my friend to delay Bethany ’s arrival by 15 minutes because Steve’s having trouble getting the closet doors back on.

“This is just like you see on TV, when they stall people from coming home,” he jokes.

With doors in place we wait anxiously in Bethany ’s new room. I’m thrilled with the soft, mystical effect created by the colours and fabrics. Unfortunately, we’re about $200 over budget. It’s a good thing I don’t have visions of being an accountant.

When Bethany arrives home, I tell her to come upstairs.

She freezes as she enters her room. Clearly shocked by the transformation, my normally chatty daughter is rendered speechless.

“I can’t believe this is my room,” she says, finally, taking it all in. “I love everything …the sitting area, the bed, the colours.”

Steve and I toast the new room with a glass of wine — we’ve weathered all the “project” stresses, marriage intact. As for any design partnerships in the future, I think we’ll probably take a pass.

I’m relieved the weekend is over, and Bethany ’s enthusiastic reaction makes all the effort worthwhile.

And although I’m exhausted and sore from the marathon build-a-thon, I find myself wondering if there’s a decorating show on the TV I can watch later.


1. Shop around and keep an eye on flyers for sales and ideas.

I bought a hand quilted coverlet in a bright shade of green on sale for $32 , and a throw made of the same fabric in purple for $25 at HomeSense. I sewed them together, added beads from Wal-Mart and had a gorgeous bedspread. During my weekly review of store flyers, I noticed a three paneled screen with places to hold eight pictures on sale for $50 at Kitchen Stuff Plus. This made a perfect art gallery!

2.  Recycle old items.

I was able to revive an old mirror with paint, wooden stars and colourful lights. This created a makeup area above Bethany ’s desk.

3.  Design projects based on strengths.

I’m not a great sewer so I bought ready made gauze curtain panels from Ikea for $14.99 a pair. I love painting and crafts so I bought plain wooden hooks, painted them and hung them as storage for purses and scarves for a total of $5.00.

4.  Stay organized.

Make lists of priorities, projects, crafts and expenses so you know exactly what’s going on!

5.  Ask for advice.

The paint specialist at Rona helped me choose colours, select the right amount of paint,  and  explained how to paint wicker properly. She also suggested looking at the rejected custom paint and was able to mix a perfect green for the wall behind the cubbies for just $2.50.

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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