50 shades of grey or white..part 1?

Paint colors can be so daunting! Benjamin Moore, my favorite paint company has more than 3500 colors to offer and more than 150 shades of whites! Now imagine the full spectrum or buffet in my case, when you throw in my three runners up favorites- Sherwin Williams, Ralph Lauren and Farrow & Ball!

In India, we never painted our own homes, specialized contractors did it with a product called “safedi” which is essentially limestone tinted in several basic colors or good old white that had a bluish hue. The tradition was to paint the house before Diwali, as a cleaning ritual since Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, supposedly favored the clean and shining homes. Safedi has now given way to advanced products such as distemper and oil paints but the job still belongs to the poor daily wage laborers. Without jobs like this, the uneducated semi-skilled masses would have no means of income.

So when I first moved to the US sixteen years ago and visited a Home Depot, my first reaction was disbelief! Couples, roommates, moms, and kids were flipping through shade cards, having animated conversations about robin egg blue or duck egg blue and buying gallons of paint along with nifty rollers, trays and painters tape to spend the weekend painting! I mean a weekend? Is that all it took to paint your apartment in all those glorious colors?

We rented for a couple of years and I had a blast going through accent walls with mocha brown, candy apple red, sponging fiery sunset, distressing sea foam green and so on until I was all colored out and ready for some graceful neutrals. That’s when I made my first paint error and lost my usual sunshine confidence. We bought our first loft apartment midtown in a sponsor sale- at 550 square feet, it was not huge but with 13 feet ceilings it called for a professional painter to update the cheap flat white to something more polished. I envisioned an old world antique linen white with a hint of cappuccino peaking through. I went to the paint store, picked two chips that seemed closest to my vision and handed it to the contractor. The result? Vik and I gasped in horror when we opened the door! What I got was a muddy yellow beige with shiny patches of buttercup peaking through.

Where did I go wrong? I picked the chips from yellow & brown palette color cards, not whites or off whites and I never specified the finish. Lots of tears, thousands of dollars and a full repaint later I got what I wanted along with a lesson for life. And here is a picture of the happy times in that home.

Vik back in 2005, in our midtown studio loft

 Here are the three valuable lessons learned for life:

  1. Actual paint colors are darker than the chip. Go one to two shades lighter when you pick a chip and if you are looking for a neutral, browse the whites first.
  2. Always test on the actual wall. It is well worth buying a small sample size paint tin than ending up with gallons in the wrong color. If you cannot paint on the actual wall, buy a small white poster board or paint board and test on that.
  3.  The most overlooked but most important detail is the finish. Each room and each trim warrant a specific one, with options from matte to gloss, so think it through.

So now that the house is butt naked…

We are stripped down to the posts and studs and here is our laundry list of everything we plan to undertake-

  • Stipple effect removal from the ceilings on the first floor. The second floor ceilings are so high that replacing the sheetrock or removing the effect will be twice as expensive as first floor. I guess I will get used to looking at the stunning view outside the window rather than stare at the ceilings!
  • Change floors to hardwood. See this ugly carpet? carpet

It was all over the house along with ceramic tiles. We ripped it out to reveal an uneven broken subfloor. Once it is all repaired and leveled out, we will be ready for some beautiful hardwood to make the place feel larger.

  • Add a new 100 gallon water heater to replace the current 45 gallon one. We are a shower loving family and nothing would annoy us more than the water turning cold in the middle of a hot steamy shower after skiing so this upgrade is a must.
  • Remove the tacky wallpaper, smooth and paint all the walls in the entire house.
  • Add a split airconditioning & heating unit for living room and all three bedrooms. The realtor assured us that no one needs air conditioning what with the beautiful lake breeze all summer long. Vik and I cannot sleep unless the room is freezing so we are not taking the risk! Not to mention that having heating in the unit would substantially reduce the steep electric bills as a result of baseboard heating.
  • Add recessed lighting in living room, update the chandelier in dining area & sconces in the living room and bedrooms.
  • Refinish interior doors- add beadboard, trim and repaint. The doors are dull and plain. While I do not like overdoing the water theme, I want subtle accents that give a lake cottage vibe. I loved this diy door minus the knob and preferably in charcoal color.

door beading

  • Kitchen- refinish the cabinets, change the pink countertop, update the appliances and kill the pantry. I would have loved new cabinets but it is more economical and sensible to refinish the oak cabinets than buy cheap Ikeaesque fibre board cabinets. Most people would also advise against taking out the pantry closet but I love the combination of few open shelves with closed cabinets to create visual breaks in the kitchen. My inspiration- Joanne Gaines from Fixer Upper. See how cool the open pantry shelving is!
  • Powder bathroom and two full bathrooms- full update with a new toilet, sink, vanity, shower and flooring.
  • Repair the fireplace in the living room and the master bedroom. This has to be the first job because it will be messy and dirty.

Let the fun begin! Let me know what you think of our to do list!



Its demo day – my squad has two pint sized superheroes!


Its 10 degrees in Poconos and our contractor Bill is ready to rock n roll with demolition. The heat is turned off, the only way to feel warm is to hit that sledge hammer quicker and faster. And as we demo away, in typical Property Brothers style, we discover hidden issues. The living room ceiling has no insulation and the upstairs bathroom has a leak going down to the living room. We also have a serendipitous find, the ugly carpet on the staircase reveals beautiful oak steps underneath it all!

Send the furniture to swim with the fishes!

The Big Reveal….. of the BEFORE!

Vacation homes in Catskills, Poconos, Vermont etc are always sold with the furniture, I guess because in the past it was hard to get furniture delivered to the remote hilly locations. Today, even Restoration Hardware and Horchow are willing to make the trek but the tradition continues.

When we went house hunting, much of the furniture was stuck in a time warp. There was 70’s shag carpet, dusty rose couches, clunky china hutches, lacy lampshades, ugly recliners, lots of leather and the bear motif was the biggest winner! Bear table bases, bear umbrella holders, bear ashtrays, bear wind chimes, bear rugs… you name it. In my broker babble, I would have described them as charming cabins with a rustic vintage feel but since I was the buyer, the only apt description would be tacky trash. My husband and I made a strategic decision to buy the house that needed the most TLC and won the prize for the ugliest furniture so we could aggressively negotiate the price and not feel terrible discarding it all.

The moment we become proud owners of this junkyard special, our broker called the local flea market furniture vendor Ron to clear it all out. Ron takes it all for free, which is actually a huge saving for us because hiring a man with a dumpster to clear it all costs thousands of dollars. Ron, in turn tinkers the stuff and sells it to those with a discerning eye for thrifty bargains. It’s a classic win win!

So feast your eyes on what could have been Livia Sopranos’ home. And I apologize to anyone who is reminded of their grandma’s home and offended by my views.

Livia Soprano


Postnote: ours is not the same as the movie

Loved that friends and family congratulated us on our heroic adventure of buying a TLC vacation home. However several of them thought that ours was the one in the picture I posted – the  Frank Lloyd Wrightian type one on the water, I wish!


The picture is the inspiration home from the movie Lake House – for its airy modern feel and the air of romance. The house was specifically built in Chicago for the movie and I can see why. After filming the house was later removed and a simple fishing dock was put in its place. Ours is a small town home from 1980’s with stunning lake views but the dismal interiors shut out the the natural beauty – the plan is to replicate the open feel of my inspirational but fictional home!


We took the plunge & bought the Lake House!

Pinecrest Lake in Pennsylvania is a quiet sleepy community with a pristine 18 hole golf course, beautiful mountain vistas, a 77 acre lake with beach and marina, swimming pool, tennis complex, recreation center and 2200 acres to explore with hiking, biking and cross country ski trails.

While the serene picturesque outdoors are straight out of movies like  The Notebook & The Lake House, the indoors are another story. Built in the 1980’s the original homes are dingy with pink countertops, plastic bathtubs, stippled ceilings and stone fireplaces. I am confident the one we bought belonged to a mafioso with its leather couches, leather sleigh bed, cigar smell and cheesy knick knacks that evoke the Poconos erstwhile reputation as the Honeymoon Capital!

My goal is do a gut renovation and create a dreamy modern cottage retreat , the kind of stuff Property Brothers or Fixer Upper episodes are made of. My inspiration? The stunning home from The Lake House of course🙂

The Lakehouse 1