The usual mix of architects, contractors, and building inspectors is scrambled with two pug dogs and a location in socially dysfunctional Venice Beach, Calif., for a witty entry in the library of diaries about the nightmare of renovating a house. The house, a short walk from the Pacific Ocean, was charming on the outside, cramped and dark on the inside. With neighbors like Elise, a ""seriously unbalanced nymphet"" who attacked the Kaufmans' trees in an attempt to scour their driveway free of plutonium, it was questionable whether the house was worth renovating. But Duke and Margo Kaufman (she is the author of 1-800-Am-I-Nuts?, not reviewed) plunged ahead, interviewing a parade of architects in the hopes of bringing light, air, and steps that didn't wobble to their bungalow at a cost under $20,000. They dallied with Tex, whose first suggestion was to bulldoze the house and start from scratch, and settled on Brandon, a compulsive listmaker. Work began, after the house survived a major earthquake and Margo survived an operation for a broken hip. The Kaufmans and the pugs moved out, and the contractor--both reasonable and humane, a real find--moved in. As the tower of debris in the yard mounted, so did the decisions to be made: lights, cabinets, knobs, chimney, colors for the interior (White? ""Of course. It's called Swiss Coffee,"" said the salesman) and exterior (""If you want to sell 'er, paint 'er yeller""). Actually, the house was renovated with a minimum of pain and so successfully that it was put on the market immediately. As Margo wraps up this book, she is eyeing another fixer-upper with an ocean view and no neighbors. Lively and amusing, with a cast of characters that calls for its own sitcom.