When he set out to renovate the kitchen of his West Hollywood condo, Cyrus Deboo discovered more than how to paint cabinets and lay a tile floor. The do-it-yourselfer also found out some things about patience and perseverance.
"The incredible lesson I learned from that kitchen rivals anything I learned in therapy," said Deboo, a part-time actor whose day job is selling shoes.
The lesson started in 1998 when Deboo bought a one-bedroom, 700-square-foot condominium for $110,000. He recalls a friend saying, "Aren't you excited you have your own place? You can do whatever you want with it."
But the purchase left the then-28-year-old so drained financially that he managed little more than a thrift-store outing for a chair and coffee table.
For the most part, life in the 1950s-era unit -- with its large windows, hardwood floors, crown moldings and a bathroom floor of vintage octagonal tiles -- was sweet.
The kitchen, however, was a sore spot, with its tired linoleum floor and varnished knotty pine cabinets. "It was terrible," Deboo said. He came to deride it as the "log cabin kitchen."
Over the next couple of years, Deboo obsessed over home fix-it shows on TV and dreamed of a better kitchen. Then, one day in 2000, walking through Home Depot, he stumbled on a do-it-yourself clinic on installing ceramic tile. "They made it look so easy," he recalled.
With two years of delay behind him, he began to remodel his kitchen.
The first step was tearing out the linoleum floor and installing 12-inch ceramic tiles. The floor required a layer of backer board under a layer of mortar, the tiles set in place with spacers, then grout when the mortar dried. Although the job took time and heavy lifting, it wasn't hard.
So the next year, Deboo decided to tackle the cabinets.
"I couldn't take the knots in the pine literally staring at me anymore," he said. His plan was to rip out the cabinets. But because the pine was far superior to anything he could afford, he sanded off the sheen and painted them white.
He hired a handyman to cut openings into some upper cabinet doors, into which he placed glass panels. To get the trendy look of open shelves he had seen in magazines, he directed the handyman to cut off one set of cabinet doors at the bottom to reveal the lower shelf. He finished the look with new chrome hardware.
During the remodeling process, Deboo came to accept the flaws in his project, rather than insist on perfection.
For instance, because of the age of the building and settling -- and the imperfect cuts he and the handyman made -- not everything is squared off or precise. "And I don't care," he said. "You learn to forgive."
'No turning back'
The freshly painted cabinets raised another issue for Deboo: He absolutely hated how they looked with the dark tile floor he had installed.
His patience was tested for a few years while he pondered the solution. His inspiration turned out to be underfoot, in the form of the old-fashioned tile floor at a pizza place where he and his acting class often dined.
So last year Deboo knelt in the center of his kitchen and began chipping away at the floor tiles he had installed. Although he thought the tiles would just pop out, they required two grueling days of jackhammering to remove. He alerted his neighbors by posting a warning in advance of the ruckus.
He learned if you're going to chip at tile, do it in a corner or under an appliance where you it won't be noticed in case you decide it's too much work. In this case, with a hole in the middle of the floor, Deboo said, "There was no turning back."
When the ceramic tile was out, he replaced it with sheets of hexagonal white tiles with small black diamonds and a border of square black tiles. Originally, he wanted to make a border of black diamond tiles, which would be a complicated task, but he accepted his limitations.
"I'm not that skilled," he said, "and I'm not going to get that skilled. So I had to give up that dream."
Once the floor was in, he decided to replace the grout in the tile counters. Using a Dremel tool, he ground out the old grout and in the process accidentally cut into a few tiles. But he was long past worrying about imperfections. After the new grout was in, he reasoned that the nicks were "nothing anyone would notice."
After the kitchen was finished and furnished with new appliances (for a total cost approaching $4,000), the rest of the condo seemed shabby, and so he repainted other rooms and added more crown molding.
After years exposed to the fickle world of show business, Deboo has found in remodeling a comfortable predictability.
"When you do it, it's very logical," he said of tile and carpentry work. "The puzzle can be solved."
Still, now that the condo is done and he's learned all the lessons it offered, Deboo has set his mind on his next project: "To get a full-time job as an actor."
If you would like to have your remodel considered for use in Pardon Our Dust, please send before and after images and a brief description of the project to Real Estate Editor, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Kathy Price-Robinson can be reached at www.kathyprice.com.
Follow the money
Where West Hollywood condo owner Cyrus Deboo spent his kitchen remodeling dollars:
Tools and tool rentals...$400
*Prices are approximate.