The mission: transform a bedroom from a disaster zone to a handsome and ridiculously functional teen cave.
The plan: A three-stage process. First, the purge. Then the deep clean. And finally, as Alex Trebek used to tell Jeopardy contestants who crashed to zero, we “start building.” New paint, new furnishings, new mojo.
The reveal is here, if you want to skip to it right now. But should you be mulling a one-room makeover of your own, I recommend you read on.
A kid’s bedroom is an awesomely personal space. That’s why it was important that Maddy and I both share the work and that she make the big decisions — starting with the new colour scheme.
I was thinking bubblegum pink — the shade prison directors sometimes choose to neuter the fiery tempers of the inmates. But as I say: not my call. She picked a shade Benjamin Moore calls “Patriot Blue.” It’s pretty dark. It’ll make the room feel smaller. It might not lift her spirits on those nights when the dance goes sideways. But Patriot Blue is lustrous, and it speaks to her, so it’s perfect.
Now the function part. The new bedroom will be a place of loungin’ and learnin’: she starts high school in September. A “loft bed” fit the bill: restorative slumber up top, midnight-oil-burning underneath.
And so, the night before Big Reno Day, we inevitably found ourselves at Ikea.
Did you know that Ikea uses one percent of the world’s wood supply? Most of it apparently goes into a unit called the Stuva — the one Maddy had her eye on. (On a list of the top-7 most diabolically complicated Ikea products, the Stuva came in at number four. It was the pictured item.) The Stuva is so heavy and multi-part that it isn’t even available on the open shelves. The warehouse guys have to bring it out for you.
We left the store with nine boxes, many of them big enough to hold a surfboard, balancing on the little cart like a Kardashian wedding cake. In the freight elevator another dad shot me a sympathetic look.
“Got a bit of work ahead of you, dude.”
But here’s the thing. It wasn’t me who had a bit of work ahead. It was us. Maddy and me together.
And that is the real value of a Big Day like this. It’s a hill you get to climb together with your kid.
My original plan had been to surprise her with a whole new bedroom while she was away at camp. One Christmas many decades ago, my own father delivered just such a Holy Cow moment to me. While I slept, he crept into my bedroom and assembled – I guess by flashlight – a whole slot-car racetrack layout. In the morning I woke to the best surprise ever. I leapt out of bed and, okay, I landed on the little power transformer and sprained my ankle. But it was still a super-cool gesture, dashingly pulled off. Hang on. Now that I think about it, the cars didn’t really stay on the track. So I didn’t really play with it. It went into the attic. And got quietly disappeared. Dad, I love you, but the racecar set probably should have been a project for the two of us, right from the get-go.
Maddy carted everything out of her room and put it in meaningful-looking piles elsewhere. Then she vacuumed (a first!).
At one point I noticed she was taking down the curtains.
“Wait. What? Those are great!”
“Yeah, um, Dad, I know you like the circus animals,” she said.
“I do. I love the circus animals! I thought you did too!
“I do. I did. But I got them when I was, like, four.”
This was true. And bracing. My little girl is — Hallmark, if you’re hiring, I’m available — not my little girl any more.
She’s strong enough to help me heave those Ikea boxes up two flights of stairs.
And clever enough to decipher the little pictures in the manual. At least three times she caught a mistake before the error compounded down the line.
Plainly, we could only have done this job together.
(Full disclosure: neither of us could have done it without our Dutch friend Harri, an actual furniture maker, who came over in the evening and got us over the initial overwhelm by building the first component.)
Late in the evening there came the finicky job of attaching angle irons to the bedframe with about a million little bolts.
“This is a good job to do when we’re brain-dead like this,” I said. I looked over at Mad. She was moving down the line like Rosie the Riveter, all focus and purpose. I realized the only one brain-dead here was me.
“Is there anything else you need me for?” she asked presently. We were getting close. I looked at the clock. It was 1am.
“I think we’ve pretty much got this,” I said. We high-fived. The only stuff left to do required a hammer.
And a hammer has no place in this story.