DIY Lessons We Learned at the Movies

Who says you can't learn anything at the movies? Oscars aren't handed out at the Academy Awards for best bathroom renovation or best converted barn, which is too bad, since over the years many silver-screen houses have outshone the stars. In fact, these dwellings offer the house-wise viewer the kind of life lessons you can learn from a statue-winning character.-C.J. Hughes

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1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
The Old, Deep South loves well-built Greek Revivals, and nowhere in movieland was this as apparent as in Civil War blockbuster "Gone With the Wind." Scarlett O'Hara's (Vivien Leigh) stately white house, Tara, named for the hall of Irish kings, is certainly regal in its proportions, with four huge columns fronting a wide front porch.

Moral: Though the Union forces were unrelentingly destructive to Southern plantations, they spared Tara; even Yankees recognize good craftsmanship when they see it.

MORE: American House Styles

2. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

Jim Blandings (Cary Grant), an urban transplant renovating his just-bought Connecticut home (an 18th-century farmhouse), runs into a host of problems, like a waterless well, a flooded basement, doors that lock on the wrong side, unintelligible carpenter's lingo, and of course, huge cost overruns. Best quote: "And if it can happen to me, what about the guys who aren't making $15,000 a year?"

Moral: Dream renovations cost more than you can afford, no matter how much you make.

MORE: Reader Tips that Save Time and Money

3. Psycho (1960)

Motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) lives in a run-down old house (a mansard-roofed Second Empire) with his overbearing "mother." After a motel guest disappears, a private detective who's looking for her gets suspicious and noses around the creepy Bates home in search of evidence.

People don't tend to snoop around houses that look lived in. Clean windows, a fresh coat of paint, and trimmed hedges can improve a home's curb appeal and deter intruders.

MORE: Secrets to Great Curb Appeal

4. Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Even though Mr. and Mrs. Paul Bratter (Robert Redford and Jane Fonda) seem to be perfect, carefree newlyweds, they suffer annoying household problems like the rest of us. In fact, the leaks are so bad in their apartment (a sixth-floor New York City walk-up) that snow actually drifts through a hole in the roof; and, of course, the super's nowhere to be found.

Moral: Home ownership comes with home-improvement hurdles; but then again, so does renting-and you don't get to cash in on any equity when the lease runs out.

MORE: The Skills You Need to Survive Homeownership

5. Animal House (1979)

Wild toga parties and motorcycle rides up the stairs took their toll, to be sure, on Faber College's Delta house (a ramshackle Queen Anne) in this comedy classic starring John Belushi and Tim Matheson. And using the lawn as a parking lot didn't help the landscaping. No wonder the snooty, wealthy Omegas wanted their rowdy neighbors out.

Moral: Good fences make good neighbors. Even though a classic picket would stylistically go better with a Queen Anne, a tall privacy fence will keep the neighbors happy.

MORE: How to Add Privacy to Your Yard

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