Book Review
Title: "Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want"
Author: Duo Dickinson
Publisher: The Taunton Press, 2011; 272 pages; $24.95

The other day, I said the phrase "doggie bag" and my teenage son looked at me like I was nuts. He had no idea what I meant! These days, in restaurants, we’re offered a box to take our food home in.

But when I was a kid, waitstaff would proffer a doggie bag, the implication being that the leftovers would make for a special treat of a meal for your family’s four-legged friends.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and two realizations — that restaurant portions are at least double what a human should eat at a sitting, and that human food is terrible for dogs — have put the phrase out of business.

Similarly, the subprime mortgage meltdown and the resulting housing and job market recessions have put the kibosh on that life cycle of American homeownership that went like this: Buy a house, sell it for goo-gobs of cash, buy a bigger house, sell it for even more, etc., and so forth.

Many a homeowner these days is either upside down or averse to selling at the bottom of the market and, as a result, has decided to stay put for the duration.

But many folks falling into these buckets still have dreams about their homes.

Architect Duo Dickinson makes a very vivid case in his new book, "Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want," that committed homeowners can and should remodel their existing home into their dream home.

Dickinson doesn’t restrict himself to the potentially dry, if multitudinous, iterations on what a house can become through the wonders of remodeling.

He touched on values, too, emphasizing our national value of homes — beyond their monetary value — as the "backbone to the arc of a family’s history and identity," decrying the "intellectually lazy … economically unsustainable mass delusion of an ever-expanding American housing market."

Dickinson goes on to applaud today’s era of "more nimble, nuanced and resourceful" homeowners, millions of whom also happen to be, to use his phrase, "house-bound" in properties lacking 21st-century functionality.

Dickinson then moves into the nuts and bolts of what he acknowledges can be a very difficult task: taking an existing home, warts and all, and attempting to transform it into the home of your dreams.

He starts out exhorting readers to get their acts together, dealing with some common mindset-based pitfalls and setups for disaster (e.g., "if your family is dysfunctional, a new home will not pull it together"), pre-project planning and education musts, and some considerations to weigh when deciding whether your home is worth renovating or is a money pit in the making.

Let me say this: This lengthy first chapter, on its own, makes "Staying Put" an essential resource for every homeowner contemplating a remodel, upside down, house-bound or not.

Dickinson puts his years of experience to very effective use, creating decision tools for homeowners to understand the properties of their home and their visions vis-à-vis the most common remodeling disasters, which can involve spiraling costs and unsatisfactory outcomes. He empowers readers to make informed decisions about which projects to take on and whether to remodel at all.

From there, Dickinson covers all the most common remodeling dreams of homeowners, from opening up kitchens, to making living rooms more social, to creating spaces that connect to the outdoors, and reconfiguring bedrooms, bathrooms, entryways, mudrooms and workspaces in the home.

The decision-guiding chapters for each type of project are riddled with concrete examples and color before-and-after pictures with detailed descriptions and diagrams; the projects were clearly selected to provide a range of scale (small projects to vast), locales (rural to urban) and budgets (Dickinson says they range from $100 to $1,000 per square foot).

And if the dozens and dozens of images in the book are not enough, the companion site offers many more for your inspiration.

If you’re a home-improvement television buff or are seeking inspiration for your own home, you’ll get hours of enjoyment and education out of "Staying Put" and its extensive before-and-after project inventory.

But every homeowner (or homebuyer, for that matter) considering whether to take on a major remodel should invest in the book for the first chapter’s guidelines on whether it’s worth it, and how to pick projects that set you up for success at converting your home into the home of your dreams.

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