Building Blogs

Amanda Forster photographs her husband, Aaron, for their blog as he measures a basement window for framing.
Amanda Forster photographs her husband, Aaron, for their blog as he measures a basement window for framing. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

By Courtney Brianne Mabeus
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 22, 2006

As her husband stood nearby on a ladder, Amanda Forster sat poised, digital camera and laptop computer at hand, ready to chronicle the ordeal re-hanging kitchen cabinets to fit around a new stainless steel refrigerator.

A few hours and several bumps in the road later, a new posting describing the project appeared on the couple's blog, Nightmare on Elm Street. They named the posting "The Kitchen Cabinet Sideways Shuffle," in part because it took two tries to get everything right.

That posting, made in October, was one of many the couple has made since Amanda Forster, 27, a government scientist, started the blog in July. It happened accidentally, she said. She was on the Internet looking for some tips on tuck-pointing when her surfing led her to the renovation journals of other homeowners across the country on Houseblogs.net.

Already a year into their own renovations on a 90-year-old brick duplex in Frederick, she decided that she and her husband, Aaron, 32, had a lot to offer other do-it-yourselfers. They have become part of a fast-growing Internet niche community of like-minded folks facing similar projects, from a couple renovating an 1863 brownstone in Brooklyn to a family in Ontario whose blog, Savaged Beauty, declares, "It's the journey, not the aggravation." There is even a couple in Estonia who blog about their plan to build their dream home.

"Since I was finding so much information on other people's sites, I thought it would be good to try and help other people," Amanda Forster said.

Bloggers, or people who write what are essentially Internet journals, weigh in on just about every conceivable topic in Washington -- from politics and scandalous sexual trysts with Capitol Hill aides to mundane urban life and parenting. As the metropolitan area's housing prices spiraled to new heights last year, real estate-related blogs proliferated.

Not surprisingly, discussions on whether the real estate "bubble" will burst have multiplied right alongside musings over window frames and plumbing.

The remodeling blogs vary in tone and content. Some are painstakingly detailed; others are sarcastic. Some bloggers have a professional touch while others apologize over sideways pictures or no pictures at all because of malfunctioning digital cameras or computers. The basic message is the same, though: Renovating is expensive and backbreaking but it is also humanizing. Anyone who has ever spackled a wall or hung drywall can relate.

Some adopt a theme. The Home Improvement Ninja, who in one dispatch dated Jan. 12 asked, "Does my house make me look fat?," is one such blogger.

The Ninja is a 35-year-old Columbia Heights rowhouse owner named Peter, who asked that his last name not be used to keep his Internet identity separate from his real-world job with the government. However, he insists he adopted the Ninja persona not because of stealth, "but more to the realization that I do my best work in the dead of night with tools that look deceptively simple but are deadly when I wield them . . . mostly due to my incompetence with them," as he explained in his first post Nov. 22.

Peter's entry into the blogosphere began much the way that the Forsters' did -- he was searching for ideas to help restore his 100-year-old rowhouse, which he bought about a year ago after having sold a studio in Dupont Circle. The blog also helps him deal with some of the more frustrating aspects, such as contractors who left him with more work than when they started.

"I started just sort of accidentally reading mostly other people's [blogs]. It's almost like a support group," he said in an interview. "Once I start writing, it goes pretty quickly."


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