CONTRIBUTED BY KELLY GONZALEZ
Not to date myself, but the last time I was in the States Home Depot commercials said that America was the “land of DIY.” I might have to agree because I did a tad bit of mourning when I arrived in Korea only to find a home improvement desert. So many huge shopping complexes but not a Lowes in sight. I thought I was going on a two-year break from rehabbing my junk finds.
There is hope! If you are open to altering your design plans, DIY is possible—although not necessarily cheaper.
The closest to one-stop home improvement shopping that I’ve found is The DIY website. Yes, the website is all in Korean, but as you click through the site you’ll see that it is pretty self-explanatory and easy to navigate. It sells lumber, hardware, pre-fab furniture, tile, paint, décor items, and tools. Lumber is listed by type of wood and the country of origin, and prices vary accordingly. Wood from Japan is cheapest because of the current political situation, but the option to buy it is there. Some perks of the website are that the wood is cut and pre-sanded, you can order rounded corners, and you can buy exactly what you need with no excess leftovers. I also like that there are different options for knobs and tile than you would find in the States. It’s a hobby crafter’s dream! You are charged ₩100 for a cutting fee and ₩2,500 for a delivery fee. Two days later, your items are delivered by courier to your door.
The downside is that you need a Korean address for delivery. I live off post, so I’m unsure how delivery would work to an on post address. You also need to have a Korean buddy to help you with the actual ordering process. They can help with making an account and payment. My friend was nice enough to pay with her Korean bank account and I reimbursed her, so I don’t have any advice about paying with a U.S. account. (Anyone else have experience with doing this?)
When buying paint, expect less customization options than you’re used to. Paint is typically sold in pre-mixed cans, and you choose which color you’d like. I took in a pillow to my local paint store and tried to say that I wanted this particular lovely shade of dusty winter evergreen. The man handed me a can and said “green.” After a back and forth discussion of several minutes, we decided I’d take the green. Not sage. Not ripe apple. Not pistachio. Just plain old Kermit green.
As for the other miscellaneous project materials, there is not one easy source to go to. The PX on post has a small section of the basic supplies, and I found them invaluable for items I couldn’t find elsewhere, like wood filler. Art stores like Alpha also have a small but surprisingly decent selection of tools and hardware. The big box stores like Home Plus have at least an aisle with small jars of paint, nails/screws, sandpaper, and other simple supplies.
Pro Tip: I urge you to buy a metric tape measure. All lumber and hardware are measured in millimeters. I figured my regular American tape measure would be fine and I could do the math conversion. The fractions I calculated would scare you. Get a metric tape measure and order the proper size the first time.
This sounds like a lot of effort, and it is, but after the project is finished a uniquely Korean piece will travel with you when you leave. You might just need to get more creative! Try ModPodg-ing beautiful hanji paper onto old, plain frames. Put a border of the thin, self-adhesive tiles around a full length mirror. Or sew pillows, bed sheets, and slip covers from Dongdaemun fabric. Be inspired by Korea!