The MIL Seal of Approval (Phew!)

My mother-in-law just stayed with us for the first time since we bought our house two years ago. The last time she came to see us, my man and I were a new-ish couple who'd just moved to Seattle together and were shacked up in a cramped rental. So when she decided to visit for the weekend with my husband's brother in tow, I went into home-improvement overdrive.

Unlike my own parents, who visit often, my MIL had never seen our petite 1924 bungalow in its purchase condition. Our new place looked a little shoddy when we signed the papers. The colors were all wrong, from the pastel yellow kitchen to the all-beige sorta-finished basement. There were gaps in the molding and holes in the walls. It wasn't a total fixer, but it needed some serious TLC.

My mom spoke carefully when she first saw our house, not wanting to hurt our feelings. She agreed that it had potential. My father-in-law, on the other hand, didn't mince words as he pointed out all the flaws. I wasn't fazed. "Just you wait until I get my hands on it," I told them.

Since then, I've scrubbed and spackled and swapped ugly light fixtures and patched holes and painted more ceilings and walls than I ever imagined. We spent a big chunk of change — and so many hours looking at swatches — having the grime-prone exterior painted.

Every time we finished a project, I celebrated the moment before sighing about how much more we still had to do. The house was coming along, even if I now had what a manicurist described in July as "working-girl hands." (I was getting my nails done for my wedding, so I presume she meant manual labor.)

A couple of weeks before my MIL's visit, I'd spruced up every room in the house except the basement guest room. It was still beige and ugly. Depressing, even. I'd just spent weeks painting the rest of the downstairs, and dreaded the thought of breaking out the brushes and rollers again so soon. My husband told me I was nuts when I came home with all the supplies.

I finished with just one day to spare (and to decorate, the fun part). The guest room, which I used to show overnight visitors with an apology, looked serene and inviting. I'd spent a year collecting paint chips, linens, and inexpensive but attractive artwork and furniture. It's not quite Before & After ready, but so far it's all come together exactly as I'd hoped. Even so, I was a little nervous as I waited for the family to get back from the airport. My MIL is blunt, which I like about her.

"I looooooooooove your house," she said as we showed her and my brother-in-law around.

We told her how much work we still had to do. The backyard is a disaster. The fence is falling down. Our floors and carpet are in terrible shape.

"I love it," she kept insisting.

It wasn't a comparative statement, either. She had no clue what condition the place was in when we bought it. It didn't look improved to her. She loved it, full stop.

Fixing up a house is such hard work. Of course, there's a huge personal payoff for homeowners (and renters!) who put their blood, sweat and tears into it. If you're reading Apartment Therapy, you likely understand that. I am proud of all that I've done so far, and enjoy the results daily, as does my husband.

Outside praise is such a cherry on top, though. And it wasn't simply that my MIL appreciated the paint colors and other countless decorating choices I've made along the way.

The best compliment came just as she was leaving. "What I love best is that the house is just so you guys," she explained. "It really reflects who you both are!"

I'll consider that the official Mother-in-Law Seal of Approval — both of our home and of me.

Image: My husband (left) and brother-in-law pose with a tiny stuffed Larry — from the book Larry Gets Lost in Seattle, which my nephew adores — in front of our house. (We took pictures all over town with the little dog.)