The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 9

Still Married

As we’ve been getting closer to the end of our project, James and I have been reviewing everything that’s transpired since last November. We congratulate ourselves for making our way through without ending up in a psych ward or at the Betty Ford Clinic, forced to participate in primal scream therapy with Lindsay Lohan!

I have shared some of those events in previous blogs (James’ temporary assignment to London.  Our hectic travel schedules during construction.)  However, one item has been omitted until now.

In mid-October 2013, we decided after nearly 18 years, to fly off to New York and get married at our friend Will’s on our anniversary date – November 3rdWedding RingsWe certainly didn’t know at the time that we’d be kicking off a year of stress.  A year of moving residences three times, moving offices once, saying farewell to not one but both of our basset hounds, and traveling what felt like the globe.

However, we’ve managed to accomplish one feat above everything else (and no, it’s not staying out of Betty Ford!).  We’ve managed to stay married.

Multiple articles in the LA Times, Huffington Post, and the New York Observer have been written about home remodeling ending in divorce.  And most of us have probably seen The Money Pit (or for the older readers, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House).  However, James and I went into our renovation with what felt like two advantages: 1) 18 years of being together; and 2) Having experienced this before where we actually did some of the work.

Not that the first time was all hugs and kisses.  Anyone who has been through a renovation can tell you how personal the experience and outcome are.  But when you’re swinging the hammer that’s hanging up drywall, you get really invested in the process.  Yet, as much as we both at times wanted to accidentally have a hammer slip, we made our way through and ended up with a Kitchen and Living Room we enjoyed for nearly 10 years.

And we expect to enjoy this renovation just as long if not longer.  We’ll move in the 10th and start settling into the more normal marital stresses – like having James’ parents in from Colorado for Thanksgiving.

Luckily this year we’ll have a proper guest bedroom and bath, and a kitchen big enough for more than two!

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The Road to Renovation Redux

So Close

We are coming “down to the wire,” moving in on November 10th, and I keep thinking to myself: “We’re so close I can taste it.”

Or maybe that’s just the acid reflux from being so stressed.

Having a “client experience”

I have definitely been going through what I would categorize as a client experience with this part of the renovation.  Along with the excitement of finishing our house and being home again has come a surprising amount of stress.  In the last post, I talked about the little things that keep cropping up, and here we are with completion just around the corner and our list seems to be getting longer.

We did have a productive (if not somewhat expensive) couple of weekends crossing some of the things off of our list.  So we’re making progress. Granted, some of what we’re thinking of doesn’t have to be complete for us to move back in.  However, that does not mean they can be left undone.

Stress as a client now colors my perspective 

As an architect, I can’t say I’ve ever been through this with a client.  Certainly not from the client’s side.  Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to do as the project wraps up, primarily making sure the final construction issues are addressed.  But I’m beginning to think the stress of that as the architect pales in comparison to what the client is going through.  No doubt this will color my perspective moving forward.

Popping in to see the contractor

And I’m pretty certain my contractor Stephan is having this experience too.  Especially when I pop in after having been at the house with items that could be addressed during the final walk through.  Yet why not get them taken care of now?

So if you see me on the street or at the office looking a little frazzled and distant, please don’t be offended.  I’m just a little preoccupied.

And one more day closer to finishing up.

Oh, I can taste it alright.

Does anyone have some Tums?

The Road to Renovation Redux

It’s the Little Things

The countdown has begun! Our house will be completed. Our move-in date will be here before we know it.   And we will celebrate with an open house.  (Our lease will also be up, and we can say goodbye to the professional bowlers upstairs.  At least it sounds like bowling.)

With these realizations, James and I are thinking of more and more items that we still haven’t selected, purchased, or both.  We were so excited to get the decision made about the kitchen granite, we forgot about all of the little things that make a house a home.

And that we still had to select.  And buy.  And agree on.

LIGHTS!

A word of advice if you decide to go shopping for light fixtures: Dress light.  I don’t care if it’s 25 degrees outside and dogs are sticking to the pavement, dress light.  Because at some point you’re going to realize you’re sweating and that fan on the sales representative’s desk is there for a reason.  What is even more frightening is that the fixtures aren’t on full blast or with the brightest bulb.  Yet, you’re still pretty sure you’re getting a flash burn just walking through the showroom.

LIGHTS
There’s just too many to look at.

And don’t let yourself get distracted by the fixtures you are amazed anyone would buy voluntarily.  Just reconcile yourself to the idea that someone had to buy one at some point, because why else would they make that?  Remember you are there for you – and your spouse.  At least in theory.

James had most of our pendants and sconces selected by the time I made it to the showroom.  Not that we still didn’t wander around in awe.  Or look at multiple showrooms.  We tried to be judicious and not jump at the first fixture we saw.  However, when your gut’s telling you that’s the fixture, that’s the fixture.

CABINET PULLS

Ah yes, cabinet pulls.  Nature’s elusive accessory in every possible shape, size, color, and material.  So how am I supposed to select that?  And how many do I need?

I am fairly certain I can say I’m not the only person to wander into a showroom and glaze over trying to select a cabinet pull.  (Is that one shaped like a lizard?  Really?)  By the third showroom the pulls started to look all the same.  And in some cases were.  But how do you select something that’s a) timeless; 2) looks good; and 3) doesn’t bust your budget when you’re buying 30?

We were able to toss out the ones shaped like insects, animals, people, etc., which still left us into the hundreds to look through.  However, we think we’ve settled on a fairly simple bar.  At least, until I talk to my partners and architect friends and family and…

DOORBELLS

Ding dong!  Avon calling!!  Or someone’s calling.

As I sat on the bed the other night making our to-do list, we reached the end convinced that we had thought of everything.  Until James blurted out, “Doorbell!”

Crap.

Have you ever test-driven a door bell?  Wander into a Home Depot or a Lowe’s sometime and check them out.  Surely they weren’t meant to sound like that.  And why are the chime boxes so big?  I’m supposed to put that in the hallway and no one will notice?  Can I disguise it as modern art?

We thought the more practical option would be the doorbell that allowed us a custom setting.  So instead of the “ding dong” chime, we’d be able to set it to announce “We’re not interested.” Or “We gave at the office.” Or on the really rough mornings, a simple “Shove off!”

Then we always have the option of no doorbell, and just resorting to someone knocking and having the dog bark incessantly until we answer the door.

ETC. ETC.

I could keep going, but as I’m writing this, other items are occurring to me. (Mailbox!)  But that’s another topic for another day! Plus that would take time away from hopping in the car, driving in circles, and hoping we find just the right knob/ light/ mailbox/ doorbell/ shelves and all the other “little things” before we move in.

The Road to Renovation Redux

Is This a Good Time?

I am tired. Really tired.

In the four months since the first day of demolition, I have travelled more than I ever have in one year’s time.  Chicago. Las Vegas. Atlanta. New Orleans.  And James has been on the road as much.  Denver.  Philly.  New York.  (Not to mention Las Vegas and New Orleans with me because who wouldn’t want to go to either one?)

Consequently, I’ve spent the summer getting on and off planes and wondering if we couldn’t have picked a worse time to start construction.

Then I remember our original plan which was to begin construction at the start of last November.  Looking back, we’re so grateful that did not happen.  James had to board a plane to London the week before Thanksgiving and he proceeded to travel back and forth until the end of March.

How exactly was I supposed to make that work?  Drag him off the plane on his return, run him to the job site and force him to make finish material selections for a week before sending him off again?

Understand, we never really had a specific start date in mind (unless you count sooner than later).  Or thought too much about what was going to be happening in our lives at that point.  Just starting, no matter when, would feel like a triumph.

However, most of our clients ask at some point:

“Is this a good time?”

Spring?  When the kids are in school.  But what about spring break?  And weather?  Will we get done in time for summer?

Summer?  Weather is better (usually).  But the kids are out of school and most likely to be at home while the contractor is hammering and sawing.  And then we take family vacation.  What happens while we’re gone?

Fall?  Kids are back in school, but the holidays are just around the corner.  And will they be done in time for Christmas? (FYI – you’ve just jinxed your project the moment that question is asked.)

And then it’s winter, and who wants to start then?  You know nothing is going to be done between Christmas and New Year’s!

No one time is better to start than another.  There will always be challenges in balancing a work life with a personal life while construction is going on around you.  In addition to juggling family and work, you’re going to be coping with noise, dust and that porta potty in your front yard.  You cannot avoid these elements no matter which time of year.

Remember, I do this for a living (and only have a husband to contend with), and I couldn’t!

The Road to Renovation Redux

Split Personality

Perhaps the biggest challenge of being my own architect and being my own client (aside from just finishing the damn drawings!) has been figuring out who I am now that the construction started.  Some days I get to be the client.  Some days just the architect.  Some days both.

Client or architect or confused?

And then some days, I just end up confused because one of the personalities surprises me.

A few weeks ago, we went by the house to take some pics to send to my in-laws (Stop rolling your eyes!  We were really there for that purpose.  I wasn’t being “that client.”)  Without warning, the client side of me came right to the surface.  And not in the prettiest of ways.

In my own defense, let me just say that I had finished a very rough week at the office, working a little late on previous nights to be sure I was prepared for 8 a.m. meetings.  By 2 PM on Friday I was tired, my brain was in shutdown mode, and I still did not leave the office until 5 PM.

Getting “hangry” over trucks on MY lawn!

So when we finally make it to the house at 6:45 PM, I’m that much more tired, and I’m getting “hangry” – angry because I’m now also hungry.  And as we pull up in front of the house next door (because of the trucks parked in front of ours), I said:

“That’s interesting.”

To which James simply replied:

“Uh-oh.”

Somehow my simple statement had him concerned that the afternoon was not going to end well for the owner of the truck and trailer that were parked on our front lawn.

IMG_1654
The offending vehicle

Can’t contact the architect (That’s me!)

Had I been just the client, the immediate response would have been a text/email/phone call (possibly all three) to my architect making him aware of the situation.  What my architect did after that was up to them as long as the situation was resolved and did not happen again.  Unfortunately, my architect was me, and he was nowhere to be found.

Rest assured, no one was yelled at.  No egos bruised.  No blood spilled.  I simply added that to my list of items to discuss with the contractor the following Monday morning when I was in a better frame of mind and could approach the situation from a more practical standpoint:  1) We were re-landscaping that part of the yard anyway; and 2) They only did that to unload materials more easily.

Except none of these perspectives really mattered that afternoon because the tired and hangry client in me was yelling: “THERE’S A TRUCK AND A TRAILER ON MY LAWN!!!”

Cooler heads prevailed

Monday morning came.  The matter was discussed.  The subcontractors were made aware of what not to do when unloading materials.  Issue resolved.  Kind of.

As I pulled up to the house Tuesday afternoon, I discovered that the information didn’t trickle down to quite everyone.

Not again?

As I parked my car, I watched one of the subs back his pickup onto the lawn again to unload materials that resulted in a passive-aggressive text from me to the contractor with a photo of the truck and the message: “Trying to keep this in perspective.”

Client: 1  Architect: 0  Larry:  Very confused.

As I mentioned, figuring out who I am at any given moment has been a big challenge.  Even more so, since I’ve developed a very collaborative relationship with my contractor.  As we’ve been working together, reviewing progress and talking about process, I’ve had to really think about whether I’m the architect, the client or both.

Did this “issue” get resolved quickly? Of course, and I had no doubt it would.

keep off grass“Keep Off the Grass”

Although I had to laugh the next day when I received the picture of the sawhorse on my lawn with a “Keep Off the Grass” sign.  Because what you don’t see, just out of frame, is the porta potty that’s been parked on the other side of my lawn since construction started.

And yes, the architect in me would tell the client, “It has to go somewhere!”

Main image courtesy of Filip Mróz.

The Road to Renovation Redux

Surprise!

You’ve bought an older home and now you’re ready to renovate. You know who your architect is. You know who your contractor is. You even know what you want to do.

What you don’t know is that underneath the linoleum in the laundry room is 3/4” plywood.

Sitting on top of 2X6 floor joists.

Resting on Astroturf.

Laid over brick pavers.

Sitting on top of the original concrete garage slab.

Surprise!

We always tell a client prior to starting a renovation to expect at least one surprise. No matter how new the house or how many prior renovations, there is always a hidden condition about which no one would have guessed. Sometimes it is good (mahogany paneling behind drywall) and sometimes not so good (“Why yes! Those are active termites in your master closet!”)

James and I didn’t get too far into our renovation before we had our first surprise – the framer looking at the vaulted living room ceiling and telling the contractor, “This will never pass inspection.” Fifty years of wear and tear had left the framing of the ceiling sagging and in some cases broken. While we had thought the framer might be able to patch up what was there, the reality was that the entire ceiling, including the ridge beam, needed to be reframed.

Surprise!

Beam Surprise
Our pretty new ridge beam and roof framing

The second came after the new roof had been put on and we couldn’t help but notice a slight sag over the garage we’d never seen before. Some examination found that during the roof replacement, a knot had popped out of the ridge beam, allowing the beam to flex. Again, a little extra framing and problem solved.

Still, surprise! Or as the contractor would call that – a “change order.”

We’ve actually been very lucky that our home, although 50 years old, was built well. Someone even commented to me that we should have been happy the house had insulation all of those years.

However, we don’t always get to share that experience with clients. Sometimes once the renovation process starts, you find out just how much really needs to be fixed, even when you’ve tried your hardest to discover issues before the first hammer swings.

As for the laundry room example above? Yes, that did happen on a project.

And no, we didn’t leave that as a surprise for the next owner to find.

The Road To Renovation Redux

An Open Concept Home

If you spend a little time watching HGTV or reading real estate listings, you’ll hear and see it again. Open concept. Open Concept. OPEN CONCEPT!

So much so that someone told me about a HGTV drinking game where you took a drink every time they mentioned hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops or open concept. While I cannot personally vouch for the effectiveness of this, I would think that’s a pretty easy way to get hammered on a Saturday or Sunday morning. And perhaps not the best way to start the day!

After two weeks of demolition work, James and I had what would have to be the ultimate in open concept (everyone take a drink!).

IMG_1619
What you might call very open concept.

Walking in the front door, we were treated to a view from one side of the house to the other and front to back with only studs in the way. While we were expecting that, in some ways we were unnerved. Until that moment, we weren’t 100% certain what the house was made of (really old 2X4s and some nasty rock wool insulation), or just how well the house was built.

Standing there staring at what would become the “new” space made me think about what architects, interior designers, clients and realtors really mean when we say “open concept,” if for no other reason we’re hearing that more and more. Clients are asking for open concept living, even if that may not suit how they use the house on a daily basis.

How much of this open concept trend is being driven by sources like HGTV? I’m not sure. However, I was having a discussion with a realtor in a networking group and posed the question to him: How much is this being driven by the realtors? Are they perpetuating the trend? Or is this just a reaction to seller/buyer requests? All I got was a sheepish grin, like a little kid caught telling stories.

I wish I had answers to all of this (or that the realtor did). Or to when the trend might come to an end. Maybe I just need to watch a little HGTV.

In the meantime, James and I are eagerly awaiting the day (soon from what I hear) that we’re not looking at just studs and insulation. And the day we may enjoy our “open concept” space.