The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 2

I Said I Wouldn’t

One of the biggest challenges architects and contractors face during the construction process is a daily visit by the client. Such a visit is often distracting for the contractor. There is also the likelihood that the client will give opposing directions to a subcontractor.

Simultaneously, architects may find themselves fielding more questions and/or complaints than originally planned. Clients living in the house during construction can sometimes make that worse, and on more than one occasion I have told the client they wouldn’t be living there. Easier for them. Easier for me. And easier for the contractor.

I vowed when we were getting ready to start construction that I would not become the client that swings by their house every day. After all, I had spent way too much time on the drawings, so nothing should come as a surprise. Not to mention having been through the process with numerous clients. Plus we were not going to be living next door or even down the street, so going by would not be convenient.

THEN, I looked at the dates on the construction photos I’ve been taking. June 1st. June 3rd. 6th. 10th. 11th. 19th.

Oops!

I would like to chalk my visits up to professional curiosity. Or a need to answer questions for the job superintendent. Or the opportunity to take some photos and share them with family and friends. However, James just rolled his eyes at any of those comments so I must now confess.

LP & SS.3
Larry with his very patient contractor.

I am that client. I said I wouldn’t, but I just can’t seem to help myself. I want to see how work is progressing. I want to see if what is on paper is what is happening at the job site. Are the spaces working? Is the shower big enough? Should we re-think any of the layout? Are they keeping the house secure?

You can laugh at me all you want. I’ve been doing the same. (Not to mention Holly and Laura.) Luckily I have a contractor who is understanding and takes everything with a grain of salt. And he knows full well that I’m going to continue dropping by.

Even though I said I wouldn’t.

The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 1

An Architect’s Home

With several clients heading down the road to their own renovation, I thought I’d reach back into my past and re-share my personal experience with renovating a house. My house. Well – mine and James’ house. It’s hard to believe that we finished the work almost four years ago, and that we managed to not bury either of us in the process. HGTV makes the work look pretty easy, but the reality is that every project has its own challenges – from the extent of work being done to normal day to day life that add its own special stress.

Join me as I step back over the next few months and delve back into The Road to Renovation, beginning with this post: An Architect’s Home.

Most professionals will tell you not to do business with friends or family. Things never work out well. So what do you do when it’s both?

After ten years in our home, and a remodel to the front half in 2004, my husband, James, and I decided the time had come to finally change the rest and create a Master Suite we both could enjoy. Our old Master Bath was barely big enough for one with just a shower, toilet, and pedestal sink. And the Master Closet was so small the closet rod supporting James’ clothes collapsed one day under the weight.

DSC07587
One galley Kitchen. Two people. Two dogs. Christmas cookies everywhere. Not sure how we ever did it.

If we had only stopped there.We started the initial project in January of 2012, and here we are at the end of May 2014 and we’re finally to the point of starting construction. What started as a simple addition to the Master Bedroom to create a true Master Suite morphed into a second floor to house the Master Suite and Office and a reconfiguration to turn the existing Guest Bedroom into a Laundry with Garage access.

News came in early 2013 that James would be working from home full time, so we ditched that idea, went back to our original addition plan, and added an office, guest room, and bath on a second floor.

Dealing with bids, lenders, and appraisers ultimately resulted in a much simpler project, still giving us what we need, but not overdoing it. As an architect, watching clients dream bigger than their budget is not unusual.

Amazing how much you ignore that with your own project when you’re the one telling your spouse “No.”

GUEST BATH 02
We didn’t even get the cool 1950s pink tile with an accent trim. Just blue and brown fish scattered around the tub.

At one point we were even having “the-cobbler’s-children-have-no-shoes” moment, and my “client” was getting fussy about getting drawings done and construction started. In that moment, I thought of just hiring a friend to finish the drawings. However, I knew I’d find the time somewhere between dealing with my own clients and running a practice to “pop out” some drawings.

And it only took two years.

Check back in as we start down the road on our renovation. Please try not to laugh as I get to experience this as both the client and the architect. And learn firsthand if I can do business with friends and family – even when it’s me.

Gym Thoughts

Because this is normal, right?

I made the courageous decision recently to dive off into the world of core exercises as part of my gym routine. Enough time had passed (4 years I think!) that I figured I’d better get on it while I could still stand up on my own.

Now if you’re married to an architect – or know someone who is – you know we don’t see the world quite like most people. I always tell people if you walk into a room and someone’s staring at the ceiling, they’re probably just an architect checking out the lighting. Don’t be alarmed.

Consequently, as I’m laying on the mat at my local Y, staring up at the ceiling, what do you suppose I think about? How many crunches I can do before being carted off in an ambulance? Will anyone notice if I cry a little? I don’t recall my abs hurting like this before. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea?

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My view at the gym. Stunning!

Of course not.

I’m looking up at the ceiling and noticing they’ve used steel roof deck for the exposed ceiling. And now we’re off to the races.

“Did they fill the deck with lightweight concrete?”

“Or is there rigid foam insulation on top?”

“They must have run the electrical for the lighting inside the pans because the light fixtures are attached directly to the ceiling. Who had to lay all of that out? That’s a lot of time on a scissor lift.”

I would love to lie and say none of these thoughts shot through my mind. But I can’t. I’m an architect.

Besides – it’s better than worrying how big a scene I’m likely to create getting off the mat.

Maybe I’ll just lay there a little longer.

It Gets Better?

Isn’t that why it’s called a renovation?

Like most commuters, my drive to work takes me through the same neighborhoods over and over. And you become so accustomed to seeing the same buildings, that you can’t help but notice when one changes – for better or worse.

My current path takes me past an older house in Dallas that’s currently undergoing an exterior renovation. Not uncommon in Dallas. Not the least uncommon for this neighborhood.

Except that every time I go by, the house doesn’t look like it’s getting better. And for me, that’s not the direction you want to see a renovation heading.

RENOVATE

One of the first steps was to remove the windows on the west side that face the side yard with the busy street and cover the openings with more of the two-inch wood siding already on the house. Which means someone thought less light on that side of the house would be a good solution. True, you’ll cut down on the noise coming from the street. However, the 8-foot fence they erected in the side yard is probably taking care of most of that.

Next step? Paint it a bright, bright, BRIGHT color. Like lemon yellow. And not just lemon yellow, but neon lemon yellow. I’ve never driven by at night, but I just picture it glowing even in the dark. So much so you can probably see it from space.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a bright color. Bright colors can make a house pop. But the entire structure? Almost makes my face pucker every time I go by!

Finally – let’s put a concrete porch and steps with the requisite iron rail on the front of the house. The front of the house without any overhang that would indicate a porch goes there. And the front of the house with the gray door you hope is only primer.

I’m thinking there isn’t much left to do to the outside, but I could be wrong. Perhaps some landscaping? And I know I’ll never see the inside.

Maybe the house belongs to a developer who is just flipping and selling. Or maybe it belongs to someone with very specific tastes the contractor must meet.

Except it’s called a renovation. And it’s not getting better.

50

How did I get here?

Today I am 50.

And I’ve been pondering what that really means.

Initially I thought I’d just spend the day in a dark room, dressed in black, and wearing a veil. But then I realized while I am in fact a queen, doing that would require putting the word “drama” in front of it, and I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

Once upon a time 50 would have meant I’m on the downside towards retirement after having worked for the same company for 30 or 40 years. I would also most likely have been closeted and married with a few kids running around.

Oddly enough, while I’m certainly not closeted, I am married and do have two “kids” running around. Maybe not so much running as lazing. But you get the idea.

As for retiring – not even close. I have a husband who is really looking forward to a time where he can say goodbye to his job, eat bon-bons, and watch Oprah. I, however, have a hard time imagining myself not working. Maybe working less but still working.

When I was 18, I don’t know that I ever imagined being 50. And given some of the stupid things done in my youth, it’s a wonder I’ve made it this far. But I think we can all say that.

I certainly didn’t think I’d be an architect and working for myself. That possibility wasn’t even on the table.

And if you had told me that I’d be speaking at conferences across the US, I would have told you you’re nuts. Why would I subject myself to that? And what would I possibly talk about?

As for podcast hosting and blogging…we didn’t have the internet. Podcasting would have been radio. And blogging a column in a newspaper. Seems almost archaic!

Yet here I sit, hammering out this blog post on my birthday. And yes, while wearing a pair of readers – something that’s happening more and more often these days.

But it is my birthday, so for now, I’m going to close this out, relax, and just enjoy the day.

At least until a hip gives out.

Live and Learn

Old dog? New tricks? Maybe.

The first architect I worked for never understood how other architects could refuse to look at new products and new processes for construction. In 30+ years of practice, she always felt there was something new to learn. Architecture is an evolving profession, and why limit oneself to the way work has been done for the last 100 years?

To that end, I’ve just gone through one of those learning experiences and am still processing what to take away.

A contractor contacted me recently to assist with assembling a bid for one of his past clients. While I am quite accustomed to working on bidding from the client/architect side, being the one responsible for finding subcontractors, answering questions, interpreting drawings, etc. really gave me a new perspective.

First and foremost, I had to separate myself as an architect from what I was seeing as I reviewed the drawing set. Flipping through the pages and saying “I wouldn’t have drawn it that way” wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go. However, having an architect’s eye allowed me to ask some questions to help clarify issues before the subs came to me asking what to do and how to bid.

Second, I have a new appreciation for finding the right subcontractors, especially when you’re looking at an aspect you’re not familiar with. In this instance, locating the right company to handle soil retention as the excavator dug down right along the property line was a challenge. Luckily, I was able to get some referrals and then track them down via Google. Which makes me wonder how anyone did this in the “old days.”

Not to mention the frustration of tracking down a particular product from a particular vendor – even with the manufacturer directing you who to call. I have yet to figure out if the companies I contacted are really busy, or if they’re not interested in providing the one door the project needed. Either way, three weeks after finally reaching someone, I still don’t have a number.

Which brings me to the last thing I learned about – allowances. I’m gaining a new appreciation for the word “allowance.” And for contractor’s having to place those in their bids. In the past, I’ve looked at allowances and wondered why that hadn’t been worked out already. The contractor has had plenty of time. The drawings were pretty straightforward. What’s the issue?

However, as I worked through this project, I have been required to list what should be firm bids as allowances. For example, the steel supplier/fabricator provided his best guess as of that day. With new tariffs going into effect, he could not guarantee that steel costs wouldn’t increase, especially by the time he began his work. And I experienced the same with the concrete sub. Dallas is a busy market, and we’ve seen concrete in the past jump 30% within one year.

We’re still rounding up a few estimates, so we can present what is essentially the best guess to the client. So my experience isn’t complete.

But I can recall telling interns that what I was asking them to do was a “learning experience.” Which they often took as code for “you’re going to hate doing this.”

However, after 20 years of practice, I’m having a learning experience. And finding out that’s not such a bad thing.

All in the Details

Or lack thereof

Lately I have found myself grousing to other architects, contractors, my husband – well basically anybody – about how much I am missing drawing details.

Many moons ago, when I was but a wee intern, projects never reached a contractor without the detailing worked out. I can remember one of my first tasks was to pick up redlines on a sheet of door details. Door details? People really need those?

But now? Clients seem more interested in getting the price they want than having completed drawings. Perhaps as we’ve moved away more and more from hand drawings and into computer modeling, people do not feel the need. If you’ve drawn it in 3D, how many details do you really need?

I can recall the contractDOOR DTLSor on the very first project I was a part of commenting that he had not seen a set of drawings with that many details. Just the cabinet detailing alone occupied six or seven sheets. However, I cannot recall the last time I drew a cabinet section for a project.

Not that we need to. Instead of detailed shop drawings coming from the millwork shop, we get whatever elevations and plans the shop’s CNC software produces. And somehow, we’re supposed to review and approve what’s being built based on just that.

Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy. But I did tell one of the contractors I work with that the next set would have everything worked out before he even thought about starting construction. Cabinet section. Door details. Moulding profiles. Everything right there on the sheets for everyone to see.

And hopefully someone will actually look at them.