Beauty from the Inside Out


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Although I’m cringing at the Formica countertops in my cottage kitchen as I make coffee before writing this column, boy, am I glad the coffee maker is working, thanks to an electrical system that’s up to code.

And while I deplore the fact that my only source of warmth on this 34-degree morning in October on the sunrise side is a very dependable furnace — and not a wood-burning fireplace (a must-have in every home, in my opinion) — I’m toasty because the furnace gets its regular checkup.

It poured all day yesterday, but I’m not looking out to pools of water. Rather, the many inches that fell flowed quietly from gutter to rainspout, and have since meandered well beyond the home’s foundation, already properly absorbed by the forest floor, thanks to a superb gutter system that also features guards to prevent the buildup of pine needles, leaves, and other debris. Let’s hear it for great gutters!

I flinch whenever I arrive at the cottage, ever since a couple of chipmunks swinging from cords on the blinds in the family room scared the daylights out of me, but I know my heart will never stop from a surprise critter in my cottage again. Cheers to the pest control company!

I could go on and on about the beauty and quality of life you don’t really “see” here at the cottage. Sure, many elements need cosmetic attention and updating, but all in all, our lakeside retreat is a healthy, rock-solid fortress; it’s safe and sound, and I’ll honestly take that over beauty any day.

I’ve always been wowed by the electricians, plumbers, heating and cooling professionals, roofing folks, pest control experts, and all whose specialized work one doesn’t really notice, per se.

As my dad left for work before 8 a.m. weekdays and often didn’t come home until dinnertime, my mother was in charge of our maintenance. She kept a log of “fix-it folks” and would call on them regularly to come and take a look at this or that. It wasn’t unusual to find a plumber on his back, splayed across our kitchen floor with his head in the cupboard beneath the sink. He’d be fixing something and Mom would be chatting with him and learning as much as she could. Sometimes I’d hear her yell down to the basement to report whether lights were on or off, as an electrician was working at the fuse box.

At a young age, I realized that to Mom, hiring an excellent gutter company was just as important as, say, having quality drapery fabrics. (She was pretty astute in the décor department, too.)

Perhaps the most important maintenance wizard in my own life is the fireplace specialist. If not for our regular fireplace checkups, my safety-conscious husband wouldn’t allow fires in our home. Although the aforementioned lack of a wood-burning fireplace at my cottage often has me shaking my head, I cherish the one in our main home. It’s perfect, most of the time.

Last week, I mentioned to my husband that it’s time to stock up on wood for the fireplace. (I’m pretty sure I can’t get through a Michigan winter without burning a fire at least two or three times per week.)

A crackling blaze has a way of warding off bad moods, crummy days, and just about any anxiety that hovers in our lives. The flames seem to warm not only our bodies, but our souls as well. Give me a good fire, a cushy sofa, substantial ottomans, my son’s cat on my lap, and a decent football game or movie on the television, and I’ve got 100 percent comfort. Throw in both sons, and it’s perfection.

But, alas, no wood has been ordered and the fireplace doors are closed tight.   

“Why?” I blurt out to my husband.

“We have instructions from our fireplace maintenance person that we need to make some repairs inside the chimney. No fires until we get it fixed,” my husband says.

“Just one little fire?” I ask.    

“Not until it’s fixed.”  

Yep, just like chimney sweep John White, known as Dr. Sweep, tells us in this Best of Detroit Home issue, homeowners need to understand that if a fireplace is in need of repairs, it should be fixed because issues can cause bad fires and carbon monoxide problems. “We’re not trying to use scare tactics,” Dr. Sweep says. “It’s just a fact.” Thank you, Dr. Sweep! He joins everyone from masonry specialists to catastrophe-damage experts — all named tops by our readers in an online voting poll — in this issue. You’ll also find the names of our readers’ favorite places to buy everything from rugs to window treatments, and their preferred design professionals, from landscapers to kitchen consultants.  

Together, these folks all keep our homes looking good and running well — beautiful, from the inside out. Now, for me, it’s on to tackling those much-needed fireplace repairs at home and that ugly Formica Up North.

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