Category Archives: Done on a Dime

DIY bathroom morphs from drab to bright

Creativity transforms gray days & beige bathroom

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The half-bath was serviceable but ugly, tucked as it was into a former closet and cloaked in beige from linoleum floor to slanted ceiling. My spirits suffered from the same condition, the comedown from my son’s wedding, a scarcity of work and congestive car failure.

The bathroom needed to be tackled–not to mention, spackled.

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The too-beige half-bath

The Lowe’s team came in and installed a new  floor, in a pattern woven of gray, black and white ceramic tiles. They took away the yellow toilet (with a cushioned seat, no less) and hung a tiny sink. The rest, dear readers, was up to me and my sidekick, homeowner and slave-driver Susan Rowe.

Now, this would seem to be a post about faux painting and DIY bathroom decoration. And it is, on one level. But it occurred to me, when the project was complete, that it’s also about the restorative power of creativity to lift the spirit when times are bleak. More about that in a little bit. Now back to the bathroom project.

I wrested the old toilet paper holder off the wall, crumbling some of the plaster down to the lath. No amount of patching and spackling–at least no amount I was willing to undertake–would smooth away the age lines of the roughened walls. And there was a lot of wall for such a small space, just 3 feet wide and 8 feet deep, with tall ceilings. The walls were divided horizontally by a chair rail.

We decided on a gray for the lower half of the walls. The Lowe’s guy, a former painter, suggested “Popular Gray” or “Amazing Gray” by Sherwin Williams. You gotta love those names, so easy to remember. Going for a classic color combo, we agreed on sunshine-y yellow for the upper walls and bright white for the trim.

But what about those wall scars, especially on the lower half? And gray? With 32 square feet of wall space on each side, the result could resemble a dimly lit air raid shelter. The solution popped into my head as I fell asleep that night—texture, we needed texture. That would break up the expansiveness of the walls and hide the roughness.

snr-bathroom-sponge-detail

Is this an improvement? Maybe not!

Susan and I decided to single-handedly revive the apparently dying trend of faux painting. (We assume it’s a dying art because the clerk at the Sherwin Williams store tartly informed us that “We don’t do faux painting,” when we inquired about supplies. And even Lowe’s didn’t have the array of sponges and glazes that were typical until recently.)

We eschewed professional tools and made do with Saran Wrap for the sponging and regular eggshell latex paint for the surface color. (I won’t go into technique—check YouTube here and especially here for better instructions than I could give—but don’t use cling wrap. It goes limp too quickly.) We also decided against shades of gray (50 or otherwise) for the colors—too cold, too monotonous. We chose light putty, a medium green, a dark gravel color and the yellow from the upper half.

A day later, the lower walls resembled camouflage. Even after patting on the final layer of green, I had serious doubts about the outcome. The undercoats didn’t seem to be showing through the top layer—“We should have used glaze,” I thought. Susan, though, was enthusiastic. “It looks like expensive wallpaper,” she declared. (Susan is from Georgia, she’s entitled to “declare.”) When the top coat dried, I saw she was right—the layers beneath peeked through just enough to look like distressed  plaster.

The trim went quickly. The mirror was hung, the new toilet paper holder attached, towels and artwork went up and—voila—the ugly half-bath had morphed into a cheery little jewel box. Susan and I took turns exclaiming how great it looked. The best reaction came later, when her twenty-something son—unaware of our efforts—opened the door. From the kitchen, we heard “Whoa! What happened here?” Oh no, something must have fallen!  But he was just taken aback by the transformation. His “whoa!” was high praise from someone not often inclined to offer effusive praise.

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Transformation complete!

The real value to me occurred a few mornings later, when I woke up feeling blue about a lack of work and worried about the slow expiration of my faithful Subaru. My psyche was a pastiche of Popular Gray and Amazing Gray, streaked with shades of Charcoal. The world was not a sunny place for someone as untalented and powerless as I felt.

But then I thought about the bathroom. It came out pretty near perfect, because I focused on making it so. That’s what Resale Evangelista is about—creating beauty and value, even when resources are slim. I got out of bed with a little more faith in my creativity.

Ah-ha, I thought, so that’s what hobbies can be about—exercising the creativity muscle for the sole pleasure of accomplishment. That’s a thought I’m going to remember, and put into operation more often and not just when I need to chase away the gray and beige.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes that requires cutting through the fog to see the light behind the clouds. 

 

The girlfriends-power house remake, Pt 1

A buffet makes a statement,

sparks redecorating frenzy

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I only wish I had taken “before” photos of my friend Susan Rowe’s living room and dining room before we redecorated–the transformation is that dramatic.

Susan Rowe's oak buffet

The oak buffet that kicked off a make-over

And we did almost all of it with things Susan already had. That’s a lesson in looking at what you have–shopping your own house. When you do, you often get a clarified sense of your own taste. You notice the commonalities of color, pattern and style preferences. When you pull together items that, for one reason or another, have been scattered throughout the house, you’re rewarded–as Susan was–with a impact much bigger than the effort to make it happen.

A description of Susan’s downstairs, pre-makeover will have to suffice. The last time she redecorated, she was going for a monochromatic neutral look. The rugs in both the living and dining rooms were pale gray-on-white patterns. The window treatments in both rooms were Roman shades in a nubby cream, with sheer half-curtains below for privacy. Threads of orange and khaki in both materials were the only colorful accents. Both the sofa and love seat were off-white, rolled-arm, tufted back pieces. There was an upright piano in one corner of the living room, a contemporary black desk in another, along with a random armchair.

The walls in both rooms were painted a creamy neutral. Photos of Susan’s two kids were plentiful, both on walls and almost every surface. Small paintings by her father were a little hard to see, as they were hung too high or in out-of-the-way corners. Lamps, I am sorry to say, were too-few and in sad condition. You know how it goes–you decorate or redecorate, get consumed in work while raising your kids and volunteering at church and pretty soon, twenty years have passed. That once-fresh decorating is dated and possibly faded!

What does it take to get started? Time, for one thing. And a buddy, for sure. Having someone else along for the ride, at least at first, makes all that decision-making (where do I put the sofa, should I make curtains–or take a nap) much easier. Susan’s decorating streak burned brightly for several months after our mission in the living room and dining room was complete.

Susan’s  house is beautiful, with hardwood floors, pocket doors, a big bay window and elaborate mantels over the fireplaces, one in each room. The dining room mantel includes built-in glass cabinets. Like most of us, Susan had acquired and accumulated knick-knacks and decorative items that crowded the cabinets and almost every surface.

Susan opened her own law practice, working from home. The two kids are grown, graduated and out of the house. All of a sudden, she had time to look around and make changes. And boy, did she!

 

susan's dining room, with rug and valences

The dining room got a new, Craftsman-style carpet, new seat cushions and a decorative valance over the window. Susan loves sunflowers and keeps a bunch in a vintage green glass pitcher that was just a few dollars at Goodwill.

I don’t know where she got the courage, but she ordered a massive Mission-oak side board for the dining room on eBay. When I arrived, it was shrouded in cardboard, awaiting placement in the dining room. The designated space was occupied by a much smaller buffet. My first night there, I was up late so I tore apart the cardboard shroud and moved the sideboard into place. It looked magnificent, perfectly scaled to the room. That was the start of our decorating frenzy.

The final results are pictured above. With the new buffet in place, and the old one on a more appropriately sized wall, we rehung the art. You can’t see it because of the reflections in the glass, but the piece at the far end of the room is a Japan-esy abstract of leaves floating on a lake. We took four of the largest formal portraits on the Susan and Ross’s children, and grouped them above the buffet–which created a much bigger impact. The antique lamps on the new buffet belonged to Susan’s grandmother (we found them in the basement) and the big pottery platter was purchased during a visit to North Carolina. Susan had the antique gas lighting fixture–original to the house–rewired and placed on a dimmer switch.

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We cleared the clutter out of the mantel shelves and hung decorative plates above.

Textiles made the biggest difference in the look of the dining room. After a long online search, we settled on the geometric rug from Lowe’s. We saw a lot that were more elaborate or more striking–but also more expensive. This rug, as I recall was around $200. Susan and her friend Barb Montgomery recovered the dining room chairs with fabric we also used to make Roman shades in the living room. The two of them also made valances from a different but coordinating fabric over the dining room windows. Susan later used that material to make accent pillows for a couple of chairs.

The takeaways

  • The big, beautiful buffet provided a huge focus for the room. We balanced it’s heft at the end of the room with the smaller buffet, topped by a large piece of art.
  • The Craftsman-style rug is stylistically compatible with the quarter-sawn-oak, Craftsman buffet.
  • The colors of the rug, the window valances and the chair covers complement one another without being “matchy-matchy.” The fact that the chair covers are the same fabric as the Roman shades in the living room, and that there are living room accent pillows out of the valence material in the dining room, pulls those adjoining rooms together into a relationship.
  • The shape and size of art work matters almost as much as the subject matter. Grouping the portraits together made them more “important” than when they were hung singly. The size of the print over the other buffet gave that wall enough heft to balance the bigger buffet, as well as the elaborate fireplace that takes up the wall to the left of the table.
The Resale Evangelista is all about simplifying and clarifying while creating a more artful life. A beautiful house that reflects who we are is one way of making life more artful–and it doesn’t have to cost much. Next up, a look at Susan’s redecorated living room, as well as a before and after post about  her revitalized garden.

 

The “good enough” DIY garage and garden renovation

Perfection: A worthy goal…sometimes

Perfection: A worthy goal...sometimes

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Work on my friend Susan’s garden and garage is almost finished. The garage is painted, the shade garden is an oasis of hostas and ferns, the yews are lacy shadows of their former selves, while new azaleas, rhododendron and hydrangeas are positioned to put down roots.

The result is a 1,000-percent improvement, a restful environment under the spreading limbs of a maple tree. But it is by no means perfect–and we didn’t aim for perfection. This is a garden project accomplished within the limits of time, energy, money and ambition of two working women of a certain age.

It’s the good-enough garden restoration, which fits into my philosophy of incremental improvement. Sure, we could have gone for perfection. If we had, we probably would never have gotten started, let alone finished.

An Imperfect--but

We painted Susan’s garage a mossy blue-green, to complement the shade garden to the right.

This isn’t a philosophy that comes to me naturally. Incremental improvement, in this case in the garden, means waiting until next year for the hostas and ferns–dug from the gardens of friends and neighbors–to reach their full potential. A good-enough paint job meant we didn’t reset every popped nail in the garage siding.

Ambersand Before

I have friends who are true craftsmen when it comes to building projects, gardening or handiwork. They might be appalled by the unfilled nail holes or the fact that we planted the hostas in the middle of July, rather than in spring or fall. My thought is, you gotta start somewhere. I’ve never painted a garage before–next time, I’ll probably get it done with a little more finesse.

I’m not saying you should do a sloppy job–some corners shouldn’t be cut, no matter what the task. Be realistic about your resources, then accomplish what you can within those limits.

So, if there’s something you’re waiting to do until you can “do it right,” consider plunging in and doing a good enough job for the time being. You can always go back and make it better.

The good-enough garage paint job

The garage before a good-enough paint job.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Sometimes that means going for what works for the moment and planning to circle back later for more improvements. Just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some of it–whatever “it” is!



High/Low: Shedding light

Which lamp cost $9?

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Can you tell which of these lamps came from a thrift store for less than $10 and which sells online for 40 times that amount?

Both have solid, turned-wood bases, commonly called Barley Twists. One has a natural linen shade, the other a chandelier-style shade in cream silk.

Barley Twist Lamp for 475 This lamp is sold online for $405.

Barley Twist Lamp from Goodwill The base of this lamp was $6. The shade, also from Goodwill, was $3.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Elegant style and practical thrift, she believes, are not mutually exclusive.  

 

Girlfriend power

The bourbon-slush-and-buddy garden renovation process

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Sometimes all you need is a friend and a refreshing treat to get done what’s needed for so long to be done. Could be weeding out the stuff that’s accumulated in the china cabinet over the years, sorting through three Weight Watchers cycles of clothing, or parting with 14 boxes of college textbooks which are not only out of date, but available somewhere on the internet.

For any of these onerous tasks, a buddy can be the secret to success. The refreshing drink? That’s the reward for the friend willing to sally forth with you into the dark corners of your clutter.

I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of partnerships many times. This week, I’m the willing buddy. While visiting friends in St. Louis, my friend Susan Nell Rowe and I tackled her backyard garden. Five days later, we’re bruised and hobbling, but triumphant.

We did it the ResaleEvangelista way. Between Goodwill and the death-row plant tables at Home Depot and Lowes, as well as using things Susan already had—many of them hidden in the basement—we kept the cost under $750. That total included a new garden gate and painting the garage. (Yes, I said we painted the garage. I can’t believe it, either.)

The bourbon slushes—oh dear, I just noted that a mere typo would make that “bourbon lushes”—kept us going. Recipe to follow.

Anyway, the real key is what another friend, Laurie Vincent, calls your “body double.” This is the person with some special talent that you, yourself, lack.

Could be she/he is an organizational genius, has off-beat ideas for repurposing stuff, will firmly insist it’s time to discard the silk roses from your (first!) wedding (and the mauve china, too), possesses the tools and skills to repair almost anything, or simply has the patience to sit and talk while you work.

When you draft this person into service, some magical synergy occurs. Your own energy and abilities multiply, and you accomplish what previously seemed impossible. Like painting a garage.

I’d write more about the garden project, but Susan is tapping her foot. The garden is almost done, but there are pictures to be hung in the dining room. So, more details in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for bourbon slushes:

Bourbon Slush

  • 1.75 cups of bourbon
  • 12 oz frozen lemonade
  • 6 oz frozen orange juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar (optional—we do the diet version)
  • 2 cups strong tea
  • 6 cups of water
  • Mix the lemonade, orange juice, water and tea in a large pitcher.
  • Add the bourbon, stir and freeze in a large, flat container
  • Serve scoops into a glass, garnish with mint (optional)

Saving “brown furniture”

Don’t hold back–color it bright!

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

painted furniture, red paintA formerly ugly wooden dresser, now glitzy red

Thrift shops and resale stores are filled with solid wood furniture, most of it brown.

Brown as in natural wood, often with fairly glossy finishes. I’ve never looked at the potential for painting this furniture and therefore bringing it up to date, for two reasons.

painted wood furnitureFirst, I started buying furniture in the Eighties, a time when original finishes were sacrosanct. You just didn’t paint golden oak or walnut or mahogany. Second, I thought painting these finished pieces would be a pain–that they had to be sanded or scuffed up in order to take the paint.

Well, I was wrong. I still wouldn’t paint a beautiful piece of golden oak or walnut or cherry. But you know, a lot of the furniture from the second half of the last century is so boring, not to mention ugly. And any life to the wood is buried beneath the finish–it’s depressing.

Recently, I’ve seen several pieces of this type of furniture painted in rich colors. It looks great. And I’ve learned it’s not that big a deal to prepare the surfaces for painting, even if they are somewhat glossy.

That brown dresser in the photo? It’s the same one pictured at the top of this post, painted a glamorous, glossy red. I found it on TheResplendentCrow.com, where Sucheta gives tips on turning ugly, boring brown furniture into pieces to be proud of. For example, she used Tulip Red by Fine Paints of Europe to get this gorgeous, rich red with a high shine. Generally, she said, “it takes 13 million coats of red paint” to achieve that finish. This job took only two coats of the Tulip Red.

“Red pigment is very transparent. Not only that, red also tends to be very dull, lackluster, meh…you get my point,” she says. “I won’t be exaggerating if I said this is the most vibrant red I have gotten my hands on.”

painted wood furnitureAs for sanding and other preparation for painting previously unpainted furniture, there are plenty of websites offering advice. They tend to be of two schools.

Traditionalists argue for thoroughly sanding the furniture before painting. Modernists (in my view) say that isn’t necessary–a coat of Kilz or primer should make the finish coat adhere just fine. If you want a flat finish, you can either use “chalk” paint, or just regular flat paint.

Ipainted desk‘m not going to offer any particular advice, since I don’t have much experience. Check out these sites or others. LiveLoveDIY.com or CentsationalGirl.com.

What I will say is: Go for it! Glamorize a desk, a dresser or a bookshelf. Change the hardware, add legs or take ’em off. Follow Sucheta’s lead: Transform that ugly brown furniture and make it yours. The world will thank you.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need and making the rest more useful and beautiful.

Five Easy Pieces

Goodwill Hunting for Stylish School Clothes

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Goodwill shopping for school clothingThere’s an art to shopping for school clothes at Goodwill and other thrift shops, and it’s not all about saving money. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the challenge of building a nice wardrobe from what’s available, the creativity of keeping current while working within a budget.

My 13-year-old niece Melody is a shopaholic. But she’s an amateur, a novice accustomed to shopping retail and, frankly, choosing items without regard to price. Like any good aunt, I wanted to hone her skills, elevate her level of consumer sophistication. Naturally, we headed to my favorite Goodwill store in St. Louis.

(Actually, Melody wanted to go to the big outlet mall in the city–an ordeal I couldn’t face.)

Anyway, the goal at Goodwill was to create a school wardrobe for a girl between 8 and 10 years old. (Boys are just too easy–jeans and t-shirts are all-too-plentiful.) We decided to shop for Melody’s cousin, Lyndsey, a combination girly-girl and tomboy.

We began by perusing the racks, selecting only items that were either new or in good condition. Our first find was a denim skirt embellished with sequined hearts on the hips. In fact, we found two–the first also sported a hot pink, narrow belt. Alas, it was too small, so we put it back on the rack. Thirty minutes later, we found the same skirt in the right size, but without a belt. Melody quickly located the first skirt and appropriated the pink belt.

Goodwill school clothes for girlsWe decided the skirt would look good with either a lime green or pink shirt. We kept our eyes peeled as we shopped, throwing any seemingly suitable top into our shopping cart. In the meantime, we picked up other key pieces–jeans, a pink satchel purse, a beautiful pink linen dress, various t-shirts and a very cute, flippy black jersey skirt.

That little black skirt was vexing. We just couldn’t find a top to go with it. Nothing was suitable–either the material was too flimsy, or too wintery. Or the tops were too big, or the wrong color. Melody reminds me that we probably spent an hour of the two hours we were in the store, trying to pair that skirt with a shirt.

Finally, she looked at me. “What are we doing?” she asked. “We have to give it up if we can’t find the right top.”

Lesson #1: Do not buy something, no matter how adorable, if you can’t leave the store with a completed outfit. This rule holds for retail shopping, too, especially if the adorable item in question is on sale for a ridiculously low price.

Next we huddled in a back corner of the store, sorting through our finds. We triaged. Some things were obvious rejects: either they didn’t go with anything else, they failed our high standards for quality or style, or it seemed unlikely they would fit. A second category was “maybes,” items that would have to earn their way into the final selection. Of course, there were must-haves, the pieces that would form the backbone of a wardrobe–starting with the denim skirt. Five wardrobe staples from Goodwill

We settled on an overall color scheme of hot pink, lime green and denim (though we later threw in some blue and a white jacket).

Lesson #2: Work with a limited number of colors, to maximize the possibilities for mixing and matching.

While I assembled outfits on a wire grid (we moved a bunch of pictures and paintings, so that we could hang our selections and take photos–much to the bemusement of other shoppers), Melody hunted for accessories, as needed. She came up with a suitable white jacket within five minutes. And, when I didn’t agree with her selections, she argued vigorously in their defense. I had to give in–after all, she’s the teenager and has a better sense of style for that age group.

Meanwhile, she found herself a sleeveless black shirt, fitted through the torso, with a nice stand-up collar. A bargain at $3; she wore it just about every day for the rest of her vacation.

School clothes from GoodwillIn the end, we selected about 10 items, including two purses for $3 each. The rest of the clothes cost either $2 or $3. The entire wardrobe–the skirt, a pair of jeans, the white jacket, the dress, the two purses, four t-shirts, a green tunic and the pink linen dress–added up to about $25.

When our cellphone photo shoot was done, we took the clothes back to the appropriate racks, replaced the pictures on the metal grid. Melody bought the black shirt and the two purses. I came away empty-handed.

Lesson #3: A good time can be had without buying anything!

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, focusing and creating an artful life.  Do let me know what you are doing to simplify or focus your life–share your tips and tribulations!
 

 

 

 

Santa Barbara sunset

Evening in Santa Barbara

I’ve settled in to my mid-summer house-sitting assignment. It is the epitome of living luxuriously for less–well, for nothing, actually. I’ll be here for six weeks, in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S.

This is what I mean by an artful life–watching the sun set over the Santa Barbara foothills, casting reflections on the swimming pool. The Pacific is a streak of indigo on the horizon. Only the distant roar of Highway 101 and the calls of a California bluejay break the silence. The woodpeckers who live in the tall palm tree standing sentinel over the house are quiet, and the coyotes have not yet begun their night-time howling. All three cats are safely inside and I’m enjoying the gloaming with a glass of bourbon.

Bargain Alert!

Hurry!

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 4.31.02 PMJust got the newsletter from the Miriam Switching Post. Good thing I’m out of town because I know I would have a new desk, and possibly a new leather chair, too!

The Henredon caramel leather bucket chair, worn just enough to look like you’ve always had money, is $380.

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This linen-look side chair, with curved arms and slight camel-back top is $250.

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A Mid-Century Modern drop-front desk–solid hard rock Maple with a hand-rubbed finish–is my favorite. It is just $250. You can hardly buy a maple cutting board with a hand-rubbed finish for that amount! I swear, if I didn’t already have stuff in storage, I’d buy it right now. Come to think about it, there is still room in the storage unit…

In case you don’t know about the Switching Post, it’s a non-profit shop on Big Bend Blvd. featuring all sorts of high-quality, pre-owned goods. If you want something and you keep visiting the Switching Post, you will eventually find it, at a good price. As they say at Miriam, it’s the best on-going estate sale in St. Louis.

And when you do find your object of desire–buy it at once! The good stuff goes really fast. As a friend always said, “The only purchases I ever regret are the ones I didn’t make.”

At home in a French castle?

Family Wanted
3 months or more
house-sitting in French farmhouse

Hello there! We live in a beautiful post-Renaissance-style Castle in a remarkably good condition, situated (in) … a region famed for its history and beauty. The grounds consist of a small woodland area, with paths for nature walks and abundant wildlife, a swimming pool (not heated) barns, a greenhouse and ample lawn areas. …

We are offering the 2-3 bedroom farmhouse, set on the edge of the woodland area, and very private. (It is obviously more human-sized to live in than the Chateau.) The property is located in an idyllic location in France, and is only 700 meters away from the nearest village with bakery, bar, post-office, library and twice-weekly itinerant services of a butcher, fish merchant, pizza maker and grocer.  We are only 1 hour and 15 minutes from Paris by train…

The simple life, in someone else’s house: Not necessarily simple

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

As some of you may know, I’m planning to indulge my restless nature for the next year by house-sitting around the country.

That’s one reason I got rid of many of my possessions, packed up the rest and sold my house. I’ve minimized my costs and responsibilities, and increased my freedom. I’m in the midst of a 10-week house-sit right now near D.C., and will move to Santa Barbara next month for a six-week assignment.

So naturally, I keep checking the house-sitting websites, looking for future opportunities. There are great possibilities (competition for those is stiff), but also some that are, shall we say, more problematic.

Take that castle in France. I would definitely be up for three months in the French countryside. Especially with a family so thoughtful as to house me in the “more human-sized” farmhouse rather than that big, drafty château. Alas, the châtelaine requires a couple, or a family.

But even if I had a partner, the prospect has some drawbacks. I’m put off by the ad’s subtly bossy subhead: “FAMILY ONLY PLEASE! Please read carefully before applying.” Which makes sense, because a châtelaine (from medieval Latin) is keeper of the keys and mistress of the household–and is therefore, the boss. (The mister, in case you’re wondering, is châtelain or castellan.) I don’t really do well with on-site bosses.

My misgivings were reinforced by the description of “our ideal couple.” I don’t like that possessive “our.”

“Our ideal couple :  Is physically very fit and active · Have a relaxed ‘Can-Do’ attitude and plenty of initiative · Sense of Humour · Enjoy the challenges of gardening and being part of a team . Can use tractors or chainsaws · Have a keen interest in France · Love the outdoors . Love dogs · Get along with each other and enjoy working together · Each should have clean driving licenses, and no criminal history (may be checked) · Also, moderate drinking habits only.” (Boldface emphasis is mine.)

Doesn’t that sound more like indentured servitude rather than house-sitting? Not only do you have to work, you have to get along with your spouse (not to mention other members of the chain-gang). And when the mistress or mister gets to be too much, only moderate drinking allowed. (And you can bet that will be monitored!)

In my mind, house-sitting involves keeping the place clean, the plants watered and the animals fed.

Mary Sprague, chicken paintings, St. Louis artist, Duane Reed GalleryDuane Reed Gallery

Everyone raises backyard chickens these days. This is “Big Red,” by St. Louis artist Mary Sprague. Her work is available at the Duane Reed Gallery.

And by animals, I generally mean cats, dogs and fish. However, the craze for home chicken coops has led to a big increase in the number of people needing care for a half-dozen chickens; I can handle tossing feed and collecting eggs. But I do have my limits.

“We live on a 7-acre farm and are looking for someone we can trust with our home and our 2 goats, mini-donkey, mini-pony,  a calf, an outside boxer (he has a kennel), an inside cat, a cockatiel, hamster, bearded dragon, a few outside cats and a dozen chickens. There’s a possibility that we may need the barn stalls and the dog kennel cleaned while we are gone. …”

“We have kids! If you have kids this is a great place to bring them!” the homeowner says, noting the availability of a pool and a trampoline. Just make sure the kids don’t drown or break their necks while you’re out feeding the livestock and mucking the barn.

Oh, the animals—I could write a whole piece just on the animals requiring care. And so I will.

Coming soon: House-sitting opportunities, part two. “Talk to the Animals” will discuss the need to establish yourself as the “alpha dog,” devote yourself to the individual sensitivities of 10 indoor rescue cats, and Skype weekly with the “Mum and Dad” of two cats who “want someone who will love and spoil us…purr, purr.”

Watch for it….

Here are some well-known websites for finding house-sitting assignments and house-sitters. I have only been in touch, so far, with people on HouseCarers.com. I had a good experience with an assignment, a friend had a horrendous experience, and another friend spent six weeks in Costa Rica from a place on this site.

Some of these are free, others charge anywhere from $20 to $80 a year for access to their listings and the ability for you to post a profile. None of them actively matches homeowners with house-sitters; nor do they guarantee a successful experience. In general, house-sitters are not paid and they do not pay rent (though some might pay utilities). Some websites, such as SabbaticalHomes.com (which focuses on academics) mostly list homes for rent, for a month to a year.

Do your homework!