Santa Rosa woman gives her home a quarantine makeover for $1,500

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Robin Estes is a family law attorney who is used to staying busy. So when the coronavirus quarantine went into effect, forcing her out of her office and slowing her calls to a trickle, she found herself with a surfeit of energy but nowhere to direct it.

An accomplished chef, she first started holding cooking classes on Facebook Live, setting up her cellphone on a ladder and welcoming friends to her kitchen. But after a couple of weeks of tuxedo cakes and homemade croissants, she realized that project wasn’t sustainable.

“I thought, I’m going to come out of this twice my size if I don’t stop doing this and do something else instead,” she said.

So the restless empty-nester turned her eye on her house. It started out as a little paint job in her son’s room. Her eldest had moved out a year ago, and while she

had no grand plans for his room, she figured it would be a good place to put her treasured books stuck in storage so she could pull one out on a whim and reread it.

“And then it snowballed,” she said. “There were holes in the walls and there were dents and broken switchplates.”

She bought paint and went to work turning a onetime teenage boy’s lair into a book and guest room.

But then she kept going and going.

When the dust settled more than a month later, Estes had pulled off what amounted to a light home makeover.

Almost every room was refreshed. (The only room she left untouched was her youngest son’s room. A Marine, he is scheduled to return home in a week and she figured that is still his room.) But every other space got some improvement, including the hallway, where she took down the family photos, re-matted and re-framed them and then rearranged them.

Estes spackled holes in walls, repainted every room, installed ceiling fans and light fixtures, added shelving, replaced a shower curtain with glass doors and bathroom sinks with better bowls. She painted cabinets, dyed curtains, painted lampshades and killed her front lawn and replaced it with raised beds for vegetables.

She did it all with materials on hand and relatively inexpensive purchases off Amazon.

And she did it all herself, with some help from her handyman husband.

She didn’t set out to do the entire house, but one project seemed to lead to another.

Estes’s remodel is a lesson in how anyone can freshen up their home and tackle nettlesome projects that may have been on a to-do list for years. None of it requires advanced training. It all can be done using basic skills and a small budget.

Estes spent about $1,500 on the interior of her house, covering two bathrooms, an office, a living room and dining room, the kitchen, two bedrooms and a sewing and workout room.

The old to-do list

Estes has lived in her Rincon Valley tract home for about 11 years. There were things about it that always bother her. But with her demanding job and raising two sons, she was never left with enough time or energy.

“Family law is extremely rewarding,” she said. “I love what I do. But it can be very draining. So sometimes on the weekend all I want to do is pull on my pajamas and grab a book and sit on my couch with my pug, and that’s it.”

Stuck idle at home for long hours, she began to notice the little things more.

One thing was the living room. She was tired of looking at the creamy yellow walls she inherited from the previous owner. So she ordered some gray paint with a slight bluish tint called “Twilight” off Amazon and started with one wall.

Then she realized she needed to keep going. There was no more Twilight paint in stock, so she found a slate gray that was a good match and did the entryway and the rest of the great room.

All that time painting brought into focus other things that needed changing. The yellowish brick in the fireplace got a coat of white paint. She had wanted for years to get rid of a low-hanging chandelier over the couch that her tall husband and sons had hit too many times to count. Now was the moment to finally pull it out. Husband Barry Estes, a handyman who can do almost anything, replaced it with a ceiling fan.

She took down some heavy curtains to brighten the room. The small pendant lights over the kitchen island had never provided enough light for this serious cook and baker. So she went back to Amazon for some better hanging lights that Barry installed.

“He’s a phenomenal handyman. There isn’t anything he can’t fix, put together or build,” she said.

Now that she was in the kitchen, Estes decided to pick up a different kind of brush and create six small watercolor paintings of flowers to hang above the sink.

“I wanted a pop of color, something bright and cheerful. Right now we need bright and cheerful,” she said.

One project to another

Throughout the months of April and May, Estes kept moving through her house. She had no scheme or schedule. She never even imagined that she would eventually freshen up her entire house. She started around 5 a.m. every morning and kept going until around 3 p.m. After one room was done she went on to another. No walls were removed or added. There was no construction work. But she managed to fix a lot of annoying details she had been meaning to change for years: taking down the curtain rod from her son’s bathroom and replacing that with a glass door and changing out the sink bowls in the master bathroom which were too tall for her to comfortably use with standing on tiptoe.

There is little that can’t be given new life with a little paint. The cherrywood in the bathrooms seemed dark so she gave them a coat of white latex paint. In the master bath she also painted the base of the light fixture, around the mirror, the medicine cabinet, the toilet roll holder and the towel racks. It dramatically changed the room without resorting to a costly remodel.

In her bedroom she painted the lampshades by her bed. For her sewing room she dyed the cream-colored curtains gray; she’s a big fan of RIT dye.

“For synthetic fabric, add a little vinegar to the mix,” she recommended.

There were a few dicey moments that led to a few other recommendations. Don’t try to attend a Zoom business meeting while working on a ladder.

Estes thought she could squeeze in a few more minutes sof packling around a skylight while she waited for everyone to “arrive” at the meeting. At one point she cut her finger on a screw. Running to get a bandage, she tripped on the ladder.

“I got blood all over my face and I had spackle in my hair,” she said, laughing.

The front yard makeover was the most expensive, coming to about $2,000. But that was largely because of the number of raised beds she ordered. She killed the lawn by laying down and overlapping newspaper, one section thick, using about 200  newspapers in all. She laid bark over that and bought nine raised beds and 188 cubic feed of soil from Mission Hardware in her neighborhood. Now she has her yard producing squash, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs and tomatoes for stew and canning.

Sitting in the middle of her refreshed living room, she said she likes how much lighter and cleaner it seems.

“It’s fresher and bright and more cheerful,” Estes said.

She also feels a sense of accomplishment, as if this time at home was not wasted.

“I’m not a person who is comfortable with idleness,” she said. “One of the most insulting things you could ever say to me is that I’m lazy. So to keep busy was important for me.”

Staff Writer Meg McConahey can be reached at

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