Book Review: Concrete at Home, Fu-Tung Cheng (2005)

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Imagine the possibilities….

four out of five stars

In CONCRETE AT HOME, concrete designer Fu-Tung Chen does just this, sharing with his readers the many creative uses he’s found for concrete over the years. Floors, walls, countertops, sinks, fireplaces – Chen covers them all, with a decided flair for the fanciful.

I approached CONCRETE AT HOME as a first-time homeowner who was toying with the idea of ripping out all of my home’s flooring and staining the concrete slab underneath. And, I should specify, hiring a pro to do so, since I’m not the DIY type (at least not when it comes to the single largest investment of my life). It was with this newbie curiosity that I devoured CONCRETE AT HOME.

Though I found CONCRETE AT HOME to be somewhat helpful and very enjoyable, it didn’t totally quench my thirst for all that is concrete. Chen can’t quite seem to decide on an intended audience in CONCRETE AT HOME; while he aims to explain the basics of concrete to average Janes like myself, he also includes advanced instructions for professionals. As a result, the book has a kind of schizophrenic quality. Although Chen does take the time to explain some of the fundamentals, it’s not as complete or in-depth enough to qualify CONCRETE AT HOME as a Concrete 101 text. On the flip side, I imagine that concrete professionals will be equally dissatisfied with the brief instructions Chen includes for complicated concrete projects – such as working with forms and building walls (!). In trying to please everyone, I suspect Chen’s resulting treatise will fall short of everyone’s expectations.

Even so, CONCRETE AT HOME is a must-read for those interested in concrete and its applications. It may be a bit spotty in coverage, but it’s by far one of the most interesting, engaging, and inspiring concrete books I’ve yet to come across.

Now I can’t wait to get started on those floors!

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Complete Surfaces and Finishes Directory, Emma Scattergood (2001)

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

More like ‘Surfaces and Finishes 101’…

three out of five stars

When you picture a “directory”, what comes to mind? Perhaps a huge, bulking monstrosity, with the weight of a phone book and the sort of exhaustive info you’d expect from Encyclopedia Britannica. At least that’s the type of visualization I have; and, that said, a massive volume is what I expected to pick up from my local library when I put THE COMPLETE SURAFCES AND FINISHES DIRECTORY on hold.

Alas, SURFACES AND FINISHES is more like a “home décor 101” guide than a directory. In seven chapters, author Emma Scattergood introduces newbies to simple paint techniques, paint finishes (faux finishes), plaster and concrete, wall coverings, tiles, wood, and glass and metal, in that order. The final chapter offers some suggestions for tying the materials together. While marginally useful for the beginner, SURFACES AND FINISHES doesn’t offer any advice that can’t easily be found online (for free, to boot!) using The Google (as GW would say). Any one of dozens of home improvement websites are just as informative, if not more so. If you’re a first-time homeowner who needs some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, SURFACES AND FINISHES might be worth a look (it does have some pretty pictures, I’ll give it that). However, it’s hardly the be-all, end-all directory it claims to be. Rather, it’s a decent starting point; nothing more, nothing less. Save your dinero, unless you can browse SURFACES AND FINISHES via your biblioteca.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Remodel! An Architect’s Advice on Home Renovation, Greg Gibson (1996)

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Darn it, Greg, you’re an architect, not an author!

three out of five stars

As a first-time homeowner grappling with the prospect of a mid-level, whole-house renovation this summer, I scoured my local library in search on any and every book I could find on home renovations. Unfortunately, many non-DIY books seem to concentrate on new home construction vs. the remodeling of existing homes. REMODEL!: AN ARCHITECT’S ADVICE ON HOME RENOVATION is one of the volumes I located that falls into the latter category.

In REMODEL!, author and architect Greg Gibson shares his advice for homeowners who wish undertake a home renovation (particularly additions). He covers the process from start to finish, including hiring and working with architects, designers, and general and subcontractors. The discussion runs the gamut, from interview questions to the necessity of contracts and shopping for fixtures and furnishings.

While Gibson does offer many helpful hints, his writing style is somewhat scattered and disjointed. Too often, the text takes the form of a rambling conversation rather than a concise how-to guide. The author’s predilection for analogies and clichés is a bit disconcerting after awhile, and he has a tendency towards tangents. Additionally, a number of photos are sprinkled throughout the book – but more often than not, they have little-to-nothing to do with the topic at hand. Sometimes, they fill an entire page or group of pages; other times, a small paragraph of text is wedged under or between photos. As a result, I found myself flipping back and forth through the chapters, trying to figure out where the book’s text picked back up after a section of photos. Annoying, to say the least.

Overall, the book just doesn’t flow well. It’s hard to articulate, but there’s also something a bit off-putting about Gibson’s tone. Look closely, and you’ll find all sorts of jabs and digs in REMODEL!, be they at fellow architects and designers, general contractors, subcontractors, or past clients. Sure, they may have been well-deserved and presented as a cautionary tale for the reader, but they didn’t have to be served up in such a bitter fashion. Just sayin’.

If you’re thinking of hiring an architect or other design professional to spearhead your home renovation, REMODEL! is probably worth a look. At the very least, it offers a glimpse into the mind of an architect. This, in fact, is REMODEL!’s greatest strength – giving you, the homeowner, and idea of what to expect (and what is expected of you) when working with a home design pro. In terms of vetting general contractors, choosing a design scheme, financing a home reno, and other aspects of home remodeling, I’ve seen better books on the subject.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)