- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Nearly every home sweet home has a few sour spots. It could be a stubborn crack that snakes up the living room wall, or a series of bathroom tiles that appear ready to crumble.

Covering up such nagging problems can be done with a little elbow grease and plenty of wisdom from those who fix up homes for a living.

James Parascand, owner of Jai Contracting in Alexandria, says one of the most common cover-up projects involves regrouting bathroom tile.

“It’s fairly easy to do, but it’s a matter of the homeowner having the time [to do it],” Mr. Parascand says. “It makes the difference between a bathroom looking old and grungy and looking spectacular. We do it a lot for those about to sell their homes.”

He recommends using a tile scraper, which can be bought for less than $10, to rough up the edges and take out as much of the old grout as possible. Then a new layer of grout must be added, he says.

Another common problem is cracks in plaster walls.

“All houses have settlement cracks; it’s inevitable, especially in an area with the weather constantly changing,” he says.

A crack or two may look innocent, but Mr. Parascand warns they could be the result of air bubbles trapped under the plaster that will make more cracks if they’re not rectified. He recommends digging down to where the loose plaster ends about an eighth of an inch along the length of the crack to make sure any air bubbles are removed, then plastering over the opening. Plaster walls are more prone than drywall to hold moisture and therefore create air pockets.

Be sure to build up the spackle finish slightly higher than the wall surface so it then can be smoothed even with fine sandpaper. Using a spackle mixture that has a pinkish hue when it’s applied but becomes white when dry can eliminate uncertainly over whether the spackle is dry enough to begin sanding.

HGTV’s Pat Simpson, host of “Before & After” and “Fix It Up,” says another recurring problem is water stains that appear on the ceiling. Any water leak from the floors or condo above can lead to such stains, Mr. Simpson says.

“The water finds its way through,” he says. “Or, you may have an attic leak or condensation on the pipes.”

It’s virtually impossible to wipe away the stains, in part because the homeowner could take off the existing finish with every swipe.

A stain-blocker primer topped off by a coat of paint can cover stains effectively. For textured or stippled ceilings, Mr. Simpson says to use a textured roller to apply both the primer and the paint.

If water stains reappear, whether on the walls or ceilings, that’s a telltale sign water is trapped behind the wall. The water will invite bugs and rot the wood around it, making a call to a contractor inevitable.

Fixing gashes in hardwood floors can be an imperfect proposition, but Mr. Simpson recommends sanding out any obvious gouges left by furniture or scratching pets, then refilling the gouges with a hard gel coat or polyurethane.

If Fido has been gnawing away at the living room carpet, he advises trimming back the problem area with scissors, then applying a clear glue so the carpet threads won’t unravel.

Mr. Simpson says homeowners most often turn to the Internet to find solutions to their cover-up woes.

“Bookstores are great, too,” he says. “Libraries are almost old school to a lot of people.”

Not every interior flaw demands spackle or tile tools. Sometimes a burst of creativity can do what a dozen laborers can’t.

Kelley Proxmire of Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda, says ingenuity can help hide household flaws that can never be fixed, including ugly radiators.

A clever designer can work around a radiator by using plants to beautify its surroundings or building a bookcase around it. Another idea is to construct a ventilated box around the radiator to create added shelf space while hiding the clumsy-looking heater.

Mrs. Proxmire says some cleverly placed plants also can cover up electrical cords, outlets or other unsightly home necessities.

A more drastic but potentially dynamic way to cover up problem walls is to upholster them, Mrs. Proxmire says. It’s a more expensive solution, but the cost can be defrayed if the homeowner tackles the task.

Maureen Marin, owner of Interior Concepts in Great Falls, says wall upholstery has been around for quite some time but its use depends a great deal on the room in question.

The fabric look might add an enriched element to a dining area with antique furniture but would be of little help on a bumpy kitchen wall that must resist stains and splashes.

Some homeowners can work with, not against, the cracks in their homes by applying a faux finish to them to create a plasterlike effect, she says.

The results can add a measure of depth and texture to an otherwise ordinary wall.

“It’s not really fixing the problem; you’re camouflaging it,” she says. That’s fine, she adds, as long as the underlying problems have been rooted out.

Mrs. Marin has another solution should a family pet chomp up part of an area rug. She suggests cutting down the rug where it’s chewed, assuming the bite marks are on the rug’s border area, then affixing a contrasting carpet border around the remaining rug.

“If it’s a beige carpet, then a darker beige or taupe border can be applied,” she says.

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