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.

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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?

ceiling
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.

Fashion Backwards

But it’s so comfortable…

To know me is to know of my distaste for suits. And slacks. And ties. Or for fashion in general. (Which is probably costing me some serious princess points!)

In my lifetime I’ve never felt comfortable in what I consider “dress clothes.” Or Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes. Maybe because I’ve never had anything that fit quite right. Or maybe just trauma from being dressed up as a kid.

me and marj
In my own defense, it was the early 70s.

Or perhaps at heart I’m just a schlub.

With the summer heat sucking the life out of everyone, my inclination is to arrive at the office in shorts, a polo, and tennis shoes. This is particularly true on the days I don’t have client meetings.

Except last Friday I had an unexpected request from a past client to meet that afternoon. Should I run home and change? Should I not go? Or should I beat myself up for not having a backup set of clothes for these moments?

Instead I let my client know I would be looking casual. He in turn answered the door in shorts, a t-shirt (tucked in) and sandals. Letting me know that what I was wearing wasn’t that important.

Bear in mind I have a friend who no matter when you see him, he’s put together. The only time that wasn’t true was in the hospital after having four strokes. Yet even then, though he could only hold anything in his right hand, that hand held an electric razor so he looked somewhat presentable for visitors. And even afterwards, visiting him at home during his recovery, he still made a track suit look stylish!

I, on the other hand, keep thinking of the adage of dressing for the job you want, not the job you have. And I probably look like I should be asking if you want fries with that.

And then I remember: I have the job I want.

And as it turns out, my boss is pretty casual.

 

 

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.

Too Gay?

As if that’s really a possibility

Just looking at the title of the blog, you would know I don’t make a lot of bones about being a gay architect. Especially the gay part. I’m out to clients, contractors, vendors, etc. And no apologies.

However, once in a while I think to myself: “Too gay?”

I had a moment early this morning during a site visit. The weather was a balmy 25 degrees, and in my own defense, I was in a heavy denim coat with a sweater underneath. Clothing I was sure would be warm enough.

Except I was wrong. Because 25 degrees is 25 degrees.

My client shows up dressed much more appropriately, but he likes to be outside and knows what to do for this type of weather. I, on the other hand, consider staying at the Radisson camping.

And then the moment comes when he tells me I really need a hat because you lose most of your heat out of the top of your head.

“I don’t look good in hats.”

Really? That’s my excuse?

Did I just say that out loud?

Could I have sounded any gayer?

Probably not, because he clocked me pretty quick:

“You can fix your hair later.”

And We’re Back!

So much for regularly scheduled programming..

For anyone who has figured out how to blog weekly, much less daily, then kudos to you! And can you tell me how to do it?

For the past few months I’ve been telling myself I needed to write a post. Write a post. WRITE A POST!

But that didn’t really work. With all the other normal architect things happening (construction , documents for another client, and trying to work out an addition on a site with an angled property line) I found myself pushing off any writing. Besides, I was frantically prepping to speak in Virginia. Wasn’t that enough writing?

Which means here we are in December with me finally taking a breath to think about what to write. And what not to write. I even had an incident the week of Thanksgiving that I thought would make a great post.

So I would say hang on to your hats, but I don’t know many people who wear hats anymore. Hang on to your man-bun perhaps?

The Big Gay Architect is off to the races. And this time he’ll try not to wait so long between posts!

Sacred Space

At least for me.

Everyone has a sacred space. Or at least I like to think they do. Whether that’s the home they grew up in. Or their church. Or perhaps the place they met their spouse.

I had never thought about what that might be for me until this past Labor Day. And I never imagined in a million years that place would be a bar.

At the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Ann in New Orleans is a bar appropriately titled Bourbon Pub and Parade. Since 2001, any time we visited NOLA this was our home. No matter the event, if you wanted to find us, you need only look to the outside corner facing Bourbon, and we’d be there. Holding court with our favorite bartender. Occasionally tipping a go-go boy. And generally having a great time catching up on the past year’s events.

Never would I have thought of that corner of Bourbon Pub as our sacred place. Until now.

When we arrived for Southern Decadence this year, we were met with the news that our bartender had retired. The woman who we only saw once a year – yet could put our drinks in front of us without asking – was no more. And somewhere in that moment, the light went out.

Don’t get me wrong. We still had a wonderful time at Decadence. We saw old friends and made new ones. Tried out some new places – both food and drinks. And helped the group we attend with, the Decadent Ducks, and the fabulous Candy Samples raise almost $16,000 for Food for Friends.

However, as we walked through the Pub, you could feel the magic was gone. No one looked familiar. Our corner of the bar seemed dim. The space in some ways almost felt haunted.

New Orleans will always be our second home. Over the years we have developed a fondness for the city and the people, and the friends who visit every year.

Except returning next year will be a little bittersweet.

At least until we find out next sacred space.