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Remodeling tips and bloopers from the stars

If Robin Leach is to be believed, being rich and famous means that you have a fabulous home worthy of that lifestyle.

That fabulousness usually isn't ready made. After all, a star wants to put a personal stamp on the home. So, many celebrities engage in remodeling projects just like the average Joe, except of course that they have above-average means.

That doesn't necessarily translate into above-average taste. You might not want to take remodeling tips from Elvis Presley (if you sight him or his ghost at your local gas station) or Bob Dylan. The green shag kitsch of the "jungle room" in the King's Graceland mansion is one of the great interior car wrecks. The Kremlin-like onion dome that Bob Dylan ordered for his Malibu residence back in the 1970s enjoys similar status for exterior remodeling.

Some celebrities like Natalie Maines of the exceptionally hot Dixie Chicks actually get their hands into it and do a good job. The country singer lists remodeling her Austin, Texas, home as her hobby. She even picked up paint roller and tools to help redo a room in her mom's house last year on cable TV's hit, "Trading Spaces." ("Trading Spaces" is one of the many descendants of PBS' "This Old House" series, the granddaddy of remodeling shows that made Bob Vila a household name.)

Others have never tackled a remodeling project before but jump in because, like many of the rest of us, they can see the house of their dreams in a place that needs an overhaul.

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Take the case of Khandi Alexander. Once Whitney Houston's choreographer, Alexander has since been a star of "Newsradio" and "ER," and now plays coroner Alexx Wood on CBS's "CSI: Miami," broadcast TV's hottest dramatic series.

Before she landed the "CSI" role, she had bought a house in Los Angeles. "Believe it or not, this is my first home," she says. "And it truly was a fixer-upper in every sense of the word."

Not knowing where to start, she sought advice.

"I talked to all my friends and everybody told me the secret was finding a contractor you could talk to and trust." She found "just the right guy" in custom builder Frank DeFelice, who has worked on enormous houses in posh communities like Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Los Feliz. "Frank's advice was, 'Try to have a clear concept of what you want done and we can get there together.'"

Her trust in him and his advice on planning turned out to be extremely important when she landed the "CSI: Miami" job, which would take her out of town for location filming for weeks at a time.

"I'm going to be out of town while all this work is being done," she says. "Can you believe it? We put together a plan because there was so much to tackle."

The house needed a new roof and new bathrooms. In addition, because she wanted "an open and clean look," the interior remodeling included knocking out two bedroom walls and installing French doors to open up the rooms. The work included finding a jackpot of hardwood floors under old carpeting and then restoring their luster.

The grounds also needed work, she says. "I didn't like the way the driveway worked."

So she added a carport and driveway gate. "We ripped out all the overgrown shrubs and the lawn and started from scratch. I have pets, so I wanted the backyard totally enclosed ... which we did."

To get all this done on her series schedule made careful planning with her contractor and her ability to trust him crucial. And that's the moral of the story for the rest of us: Taking the time to choose the right contractor upfront saves time and grief on the project.

Bob Vila sits on the other end of the spectrum. He is a celebrity because of his remodeling skill. The original host of "This Old House" now has another remodeling show called "Home Again" and a Web site. So who better to ask for some practical, inexpensive quick fixes to refresh a tired house?

"The first thing is preventive maintenance [to help avoid expensive repairs]," he says. "Before I left the house this morning, I tightened screws on a hinge on the front gate to keep it from sagging. I also straightened out the latch on the back gate because it wasn't latching."

If there's some little job you've been meaning to get around to, Vila says to seize the moment. The time spent on tasks like "tightening things, oiling things and picking things up out of harm's way ... cleaning gutters, spring cleaning, battening down in the fall and keeping an eye on potential problem areas, especially if you're in an old house" will keep the home looking good and save plenty of time and money in the long run.

"Another favorite quick fix is the perennial paint job" or sometimes just a little elbow grease to get rid of scuffs on the wall. "Any time of the year is a fine time to do a little fix-up that involves a can of paint and a paint brush," he says. That's why he always advises people to take good care of left-over paint. "It will come in hand for touching up later."

After paint, other quick fixes include changing light fixtures. "You can replace an existing fixture with track lighting in a galley, replace or add fixtures under wall cabinets to give better work light," he says. Inexpensive peel-and-stick fixtures can do that job, too.

"Then, there's hardware," he says. Changing cabinet pulls to a sleek, stainless steel pull or knob can help change the look of a bathroom or kitchen.

"They're cosmetics that will make the whole room look better," Vila says. "It's really just smoke and mirrors."

-- Posted: April 7, 2003


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