Where did the time go? More to the point, where did the paint go? The varnish on the floor? The nap in the carpet?

It's been about 20 years since we moved into our current home -- years full of child-rearing, career-paddling and general life, all of which has been distracting enough to keep me from looking too hard at the door jambs and cupboard doors until now. Now, though, it's as if I can't stop looking at the cosmetics of our  house. As they say in Hollywood, she could use a little nip-tuck.

Given a second chance, though, what do I do? When we moved in, we went with a white kitchen and the specter of adding color almost makes me giddy. There's really not much wall space, so a dramatic color would be possible. I dream of eggplant. That would be dramatic -- and also more change than my husband or kids are bargaining for. The thing is, I find myself not caring so much about whether they can live with it or not. The kids are pretty much raised; the kitchen is my domain. There's a shade of paprika that I like.

I've always wanted to upgrade the drawer pulls, too. Maybe ones that look like twigs, or something, anything other than the standard-issue knobs that are losing their finish.

The window shades have had it, too, after years of sun from the outside and splashes and cooking from the inside. Maybe something with texture and pattern, snazzier than the beigey, muslinly shades we started with.

I suddenly see why my husband is agitating for white walls, beige window shades and re-lacquered knobs: I want new and vibrant, while he remains happy with those original choices. Does he think I want to replace him as well? I don't -- and only partly because I never want to date again. But I am admittedly less willing to play it safe anymore.

Of course, neither do I want to be stuck living with a midlife crisis every time I walk into the kitchen. So I'm looking at magazine and websites with a more serious eye. I'm studying my friends homes, taking mental notes. Mostly, though, I'm trying to listen to my own yearnings for change, for color, for a fresh view, a rearranged room. Is there some other game afoot?

Happily, I think I have nothing more than a case of paprika-envy. But I wonder: As you look at a familar room and imagine getting a second chance, would you take it? Are the decisions that drove your life 20 years ago hopelessly outdated -- or gut instincts that still bear listening to?

In short: When a house needs a facelift, should the results be so great that people notice? Or should they merely think that I finally cleaned?