What Would Martha Do?

(She'd probably hire someone, but if you can't, then) Do It Your Own Damn Self

Since the time of primitive cave paintings, specifically those handprints on the walls of the Chauvet cave, people have longed to spruce up their space and have it reflect part of themselves. And like those early domestic artisans, many of us have the talent and means; we just need the encouragement and motivation to take it to the next level.

Thank goodness we've evolved a bit since those early days.

Crafting a weekend warrior handy person out of a novice is but an Internet connection away. Technology has put the rules of how-to on our monitors, our laptops, our personal digital assistants, and now, on our phones, making wireless the new hands-on. And our collective Google-Fu has made the idea of asking a dumb question impossible, because, a million-to-one, someone in a forum somewhere has already answered it.

How-to-do-anything czar Martha Stewart is featured on the cover of August's Wired magazine, shoring up as a poster girl for the do-it-yourself movement. Makes sense, as she's been DIY-ing since she was in DI-apers. Who knew, a decade ago, that with the help of your trusty laptop, you'd one day be able to make and bake like a pro? Same concept goes for home improvement.

Not every project needs to be a weekendlong sweaty mess of ladders and sawdust. Some of the most dramatic changes can be the easiest. And with digital paint-by-numbers instructions at hand, all you need is inspiration.

Your best bet is to start with what you've got and shine it up. And nothing shines like a fresh coat of paint. Hit up one the of well-known websites (HomeDepot.com, SherwinWilliams.com, RestorationHardware.com) for color tools, or take in a swatch of anything (that one shoe, that lamp, your dog) to your local paint and supply store, and have them match it. Take into consideration the natural and artificial lighting you've got and how your new color will work with them. Ask for a small paint sample, and test it on your wall. Ponder. Change your mind, ponder, rinse repeat! And remember, like everything else in life, you generally get what you pay for. This is certainly true of paint quality. That doesn't mean you can't find quality midrange, but you can definitely tell the difference between high-end and the more economical lines.

Once your walls have been splashed, consider the pieces that you'll be putting back into the space. Artsparx.com is your best friend when you can't afford a gorgeous new set of bedroom furniture at Four Hands or Motif. Because, chances are, there's a lot of life left in your old furniture set. Artsparx offers step-by-step instructions on how to refinish, restain, or repaint it. Old crotchety bookshelf + fresh shine of Mexican vanilla = shabby chic! Get a new grip by replacing your drawer knobs and pulls -- a screwdriver (Phillips? flathead? Tito's?) is the only tool you need. Restoration Hardware is perfect for a clean, modern look, or hit up some local vintage shops or Habitat for Humanity's ReStores for funky, retro, or mix-matched knobs. Tassels have enjoyed a strange renaissance over the last decade or so as "the new black" when it comes to accentuating your handles and doorknobs. They're "like earrings" for your furniture. Keep an eye out for Jonathan Adler's Fall Collection. (www.jonathanadler.com)

HomeDepot.com offers weekend clinics for big projects like installing/refinishing hardwoods, but what about slab foundations? See if pulling up the rugs and staining the concrete underneath is a good project for you. It's time consuming, but nothing says modern like stained concrete. Careful, though: When you stain, you only get one shot at it. Learn as much as you can before you start, and try it out on some smaller areas first.

Can you line up squares? Play Tetris much as a kid? Flor.com offers modular flooring that's as easy as pie (not pi -- that's hard). Mixing and matching tiles and textures makes for a really unique look that's both affordable and versatile; order up a test grouping for $5, and get a $15 rebate toward your first order.

Your local big-box Home Depot also offers clinics on tiling -- whether you opt for the high-end ceramic or low-end vinyl, finding the how-to is easy and quick. But take into consideration what kind of wear and tear you're going to subject your floors to before shelling out the time and money. Vinyl tiling, while economical, has a tendency to pull up where water gets in. If you drop or mop a lot, this might happen to your floors sooner than later.

"Doing it yourself" is no longer condemned to the back pages of the women's magazines alongside home permanents and goopy depilatories. You can thank Martha (along with all those shows on cable networks like HGTV, TLC, etc.) for making it a respectable means of self-expression. Think of it as taking your old room -- your "old you," as it were -- and carving out an entirely new space, born of your own sweat, bare hands, and sawdust. Just like that first cave person back in Chauvet. A very wired cave person with a DSL connection and a credit card.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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DIY Design, Do-It-Yourself, Chauvet, Google-Fu, Martha Stewart, DIY, Home Depot, Artsparx.com, Four Hands, Motif, Jonathan Adler's Fall Collection, Habitat for Humanity, Re-Store, Flor.com

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