Inventor Required: Home Renovations

When I was a child, my father was nearly always working on a home improvement project of some kind. My dad refinished basements, renovated bathrooms, erected walls, and once even put in a new staircase where one hadn’t been before. I liked to help him with these projects (though, truth be told, I’m not sure if I was a help or hindrance in those years), and often took on the role of “scribe,” taking notes for my dad, writing down measurements, making shopping lists. Growing up in this kind of DIY household engendered a definite “can do” attitude in me, so when I bought my first home, it seemed normal to take on projects myself.

Every spring I tackle a different home improvement project. To date, I’ve repainted the entire interior of my house, replaced all the closet doors, refurbished a fence, installed new light fixtures inside and out, and renovated two bathrooms. Some of these projects (the bathrooms) have been more challenging than others (the painting), but all of them have required more creativity and innovative thinking than I would have imagined at the outset—something I didn’t really take away from the home projects of my childhood. My father is very analytical and logical, and from my perspective, his home improvement projects were too—well planned, well organized, and completed without a hitch. It was only when I started my own projects that I realized that for all the logic and thought these things require; they need an equal amount of creative thinking and problem-solving.

When I decided to renovate a bathroom last year, I was pretty confident I knew what to expect since I’d redone the master bath two years before. But, the project didn’t go quite as I planned: I discovered moldy drywall, a hole, and a bare, concrete floor when I removed the old vanity. I also found out that most contemporary vanities don’t work with my 1984 plumbing. So I put my inventive thinking cap on and got to work.

bathroom moldPatching the hole

I eradicated the mold, replaced the drywall, and patched the bare hole. Those were pretty basic repairs. The bigger challenge came when I had to figure out how to cover the concrete floor so that it would match (or at least blend with) the existing tile. After scouring every home improvement store and flooring outlet for a match—and coming up empty—I decided I’d have to come up with my own solution. Using a combination of paint and tile I was able to create a patch of flooring that blends beautifully with what was already there. My most creative solution, though, came when I crafted my own flexible, leak-proof plumbing contraption to make the new sink and vanity work with the old pipes. I felt a little like MacGyver, using traditional plumbing supplies, hardware, auto supplies, and some super strength putty.

new tile floorThough I thought this renovation project would take just a weekend, it took nearly a month, and was by far the most frustrating of all my home improvement projects (so far, anyway). But it’s also been the most satisfying and most creative. I encountered unexpected problems and developed innovative solutions, bounced back from what I originally thought might be insurmountable challenges, and ultimately came up with a beautiful end result. Since I’ve become my own contractor, I’ve realized that the projects I witnessed as a child weren’t perfect. Like me, my dad surely encountered problems and came up with solutions, switched gears, and found creative ways to use materials and tools.  And though I’m not inventing something when I take on a new project at home, I often follow a process similar to that of an inventor—coming up with a new idea, sketching out a plan, creating or building something, and then tweaking it make it better before arriving at the final product. (My projects seem to be especially heavy on the “tweaking” part of the process.) Though sometimes lengthy and frustrating, it’s exactly this creative and innovative—and messy—process that I find so rewarding about working on my home.

Finished bathroom

Caviar Manicures and Inventive Dreams

Inventors often combine unrelated ideas and materials to create something new. Like Anna’s recent story of cassette tape woven into wearable fiber or Steve’s car prototypes made out of pasta, invention ‘mashups’ are awesome.

Caviar manicureCase in point: the current Spring 2013 nail art phenomenon of the ‘caviar manicure’. Unlike a normal manicure, which consists of one or several colors of nail polish, a caviar manicure uses a base coat of nail polish combined with a top sprinkling of tiny pearlescent beads. The result is a 3-D effect that adds attention-grabbing, high fashion texture to everyday looks.

While the caviar manicure wasn’t invented this season, it’s become a big deal through major celebrities like Anne Hathaway and Jessica Biel. Considering that I’m not always the world’s most inspiring fashion plate, I thought I’d take a risk and try it myself. However, the brand name kit to create this nail art is pretty expensive, so I started searching for a more affordable DIY alternative.

Some of the materials I found around our office included model toy paint, aluminum foil, cake sprinkles, and clay. I also had a brand new bottle of pretty lilac nail polish I’d purchased, so I thought about what colors would look good, what combinations would be fresh and interesting, and what I could live with for a few days.

DIY manicure materials


The result: I used a base coat of Essie “lilacism” polish with a top sprinkling of clay on just one finger. To be honest, I don’t think it’ll become the next fashion trend, but I’m proud of my foray into haute nail couture. And although I think I’ll be sticking to plain polish in the future, I’m glad I invented my own unique combination.

Manicure close up.

Have you tried the caviar nail trend, or come up with your own inventive nail art? Share with us and your friends! Tweet it at @SI_Invention using #BrightNails.