Among all the home remodeling blogs I visit there is one guilty pleasure: “Brownstone Diary,” Julia Angwin’s column in the Wall Street Journal about the renovation of her family’s dilapidated Harlem brownstone. Angwin and her husband sound like one of those couples in the Weddings and Celebrations section of the Sunday New York Times (he’s a professor at Columbia and she’s a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist), but they’re far from perfect. And that’s exactly what fascinates me. This isn’t really a blog about home remodeling, it’s a blog about Julia, and Julia is disconcertingly honest about her less-than-perfect behavior.
In the first entry, “Remodeling House and Marriage,” she picks a fight with her husband, who has a full-time job and also supervises the remodeling work, because he doesn’t help her wash dishes. Later, she explains that they’ve decided to rip out all the beautiful vintage fireplace mantles, cabinets, and wood trim inside the house because, basically, they don’t care about it. In a more recent entry, she and her husband decide to install two dishwashers in their new kitchen so that one will always have clean dishes inside of it.
Readers have a lot to say to Julia and flood her with personal reassurances and design advice. More than one has suggested therapy. But I don’t want Julia to change; I like reading about all the hopelessly imperfect and human things she does, and I like her too. Reading the column is like listening in on an attractive couple sitting near you at a restaurant. You don’t mean to spy but you can’t turn away.