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Crystal Beach grandmother's skill and $500 bathroom remodel recognized by 'Better Homes and Gardens'

Little Claudia McCabe was only 5 years old when she held her first blowtorch. Fearless in the face of home repair and remodeling, she came to her father's rescue as he installed a new water heater. • Since then, she has hammered and chiseled — and painted and papered — her way through life, no job too big and no prospect too scary for the Crystal Beach wife, mother and grandmother.

Her latest project, remodeling the master bathroom in her 3,500-square-foot house on Southern Bayou, was so impressive that it landed her in Better Homes and Gardens as September's featured DIYer of the month.

She took a ho-hum bathroom and breathed new life into it with a little ingenuity — and a tile cutter.

That's what intrigued the Better Homes and Gardens folks.

"We thought a lot of people would relate to the original bathroom she had," Kit Selzer, senior BHG remodeling editor, said. "She was able to take what was before her and make us kind of sit up and say, 'Wow,' " Selzer said.

• • •

McCabe comes by her penchant for pounding naturally. Her father, the man who gave her her first blowtorch, had a fix-it shop in upstate New York where they lived.

"I grew up around tools and band saws. My dad told us we could do anything," she said.

He apparently lived by this creed: If you fix your daughter's house, you help her for a day, but if you teach your daughter how to fix her house, you help her for a lifetime.

For over the course of that lifetime, which includes seven houses in which she raised two children, what her father didn't teach her, she taught herself.

• • •

McCabe got the inspiration for her wow-inducing bathroom project from a hotel in Aspen, Colo. Always on the lookout for home fix-up ideas, she liked the bathroom there and knew she could replicate it at home.

Her bathroom had one large mirror over a double sink and nutmeg-stained cabinets. The hotel bath had two framed mirrors on a decorative tile wall and espresso-colored cabinets.

She didn't just admire the hotel bath, she measured and counted and sketched so that when she got home, she was able to go to work.

The 1-inch tiles had been laid on the hotel wall in such a fashion that they made arches over both mirrors.

She drew the shape of the arches on a big piece of paper she laid on the floor. Then she filled the shape with tiles. When she was done, she transferred the tiles onto the wall.

The tile design, McCabe noted at the hotel, included 4- by 9-inch tiles. When she couldn't find that size ready-made, she made them herself by cutting down standard 18- by 18-inch travertine tiles.

Piece of cake.

"I have a little tile saw. I think cutting tile is fun," she said.

Then she hung two mirrors, stained the cabinets darker and sprayed the light fixtures brushed nickel to match the faucets. Voila. $500 later, she had a new bathroom.

Patti Ewald is a freelance writer who lives in Gulfport. She can be reached at pattiewald@

Claudia's toolbox

Essential items every fixer-upper should have

• A good hammer

• An assortment of screwdrivers — flat head, Phillips, star (torx), hex and square tips. (A lot of electronics and toys have screws holding the battery compartment closed.)

• A hand saw

• Assorted pliers — needle-nose, adjustable and channel locks

• A big wrench for taking apart drains

• A cordless electric drill with drill bits for wood and metal

• A sharp utility knife

• A tape measure

• A level for hanging pictures

• Duct tape — for when things move when they shouldn't

• Spray lubricant — for when things don't move and should

• Paintbrushes — synthetic bristles for latex paints, natural bristles for oil-based paints

• A sturdy step ladder, sized right for your home. If you have 12-foot ceilings, a 6-foot ladder won't do.

• An assortment of screws and nails

DIY tips

from Claudia

• Don't be afraid.

• Do your research. Google whatever you want to do. Everything is on the Internet.

• Watch how-to videos. You can learn to change a garbage disposal with a video.

• If you're thinking about replacing something, first think about whether it can be repainted or resurfaced.

• If you see something you want to do in a magazine or elsewhere, figure out how to do it with the materials you have.

Crystal Beach grandmother's skill and $500 bathroom remodel recognized by 'Better Homes and Gardens' 10/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 11:05am]
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