The Road to Renovation Redux

Ho, Ho, Oh No!

One of our biggest achievements in the time spent working on our renovation is utilizing the space we have to meet our needs.  That meant we were able to get both the kitchen and the bathroom that we had been wanting for a long time without going overboard and adding a lot of square footage.  We simply had to look at how we could turn existing space into usable space.

Turning existing space into usable space

A great example of that is the front room of the house.  From the time we moved in, the front room always had minimal furniture.  A couple of chairs.  A small electric piano.  A rug.  However, following the renovation, that room now functions as our dining room.  And as we unpacked and rearranged furniture, we were able to make the space still fit what we had and adapt that room for dining.

Except we forgot one thing:

But where does the Christmas tree go?

Where does the Christmas tree go?

For 12 years, the front room of the house was the designated spot for the Christmas tree.  And since the ceiling was sloped, and we didn’t have a lot of furniture to shift around, we had the option of getting any size tree we wanted.  Consequently, three years ago we allowed my 5 foot tall sister to talk us into getting a 9 foot tree to match hers.  (We have to get a step ladder to get to the top.  I’m picturing my brother-in-law having to hoist my sister to the top of theirs with a crane!)

As we started talking as we pulled out the boxes and bins this year, though, we realized we hadn’t thought through where exactly this monstrosity was to go.  We felt we had prepared pretty well overall.  Moving back in we knew where the office furniture was going.  Who got which side of the master closet?  Which wall the guest bed was going on?  But we hadn’t given much thought about how to handle holidays and the extras that invariably go along with them.

So we stood there over the weekend, looking at the combined living and dining rooms – looking at the sofa, loveseat, chair, ottoman, dining room table, side table, leather bench, side chair, and an electric piano – and wondering where exactly Christmas was going to happen.

Working it out

Do we forego the big tree for the little tree purchased last year?  Do we move the dining table and just eat dinner at the kitchen island for the month of December?  Do we skip decorating altogether this year and continue to let ourselves settle into the space?

IMG_1989Surprisingly, we were able to move only two pieces and find a location for the tree.  Of course, we may change that next year.  After all, we really are adapting to new spaces.  We may find ourselves bumping into the tree as we walk past and decide we need a place more out of the way.  Or discover that the dogs really love curling up under it at night.

All’s well that ends well

But for now, and for not having planned, our first Christmas and our tree in the “new” home are working out well, as and where they are!

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.

How Honest is Too Honest?

Exactly how much are you supposed to admit to on a seller’s disclosure? Where do you draw the line?

Exactly how much are you supposed to admit to on a seller’s disclosure? Where do you draw the line?

During our last trip to New Orleans, I picked up a copy of The Last Madam by Christine Wiltz. And it’s exactly how it sounds – the life of the last madam running the last known house of prostitution in New Orleans. Very interesting to read. Some for the madam’s story. Some for the sheer amount of corruption during that time.

Norma Wallace. Source: Chris Wiltz.

While the author was nice enough to include a photo of the house from the 1940s, the architect nerd in me had to check out Google to see if the house still existed. Sure enough, there it was. Even better, I found some news links from when the house was purchased post-Katrina.

And discovered that the new owner didn’t know about the house’s history until he was about to close on the property.

Now I’ve been to NOLA enough times, and read about NOLA’s history enough times, to know that when it comes to the French Quarter, I can’t imagine there isn’t a house or building without a history. But this guy didn’t think to ask? And the seller didn’t disclose?

I know a couple whose home in East Texas is haunted. Not pretend haunted. Haunted. Nothing too terrible but just enough to give someone pause. But that’s one of those things I’d want to see on the disclosure form, maybe somewhere between when the roof was replaced, and the house rewired.

Which makes me wonder why it took this buyer so long to find out he was purchasing what was once a house of ill-repute. And as the seller, I think that type of history would add some cache to the home.

At least it would for me.

“Well when I bought the place there was a lot of damage from the hurricane. Wood rot. Holes in the roof. Oh, and did I mention it was a brothel? See? Right there on the disclosure form. Right below termite damage.”

Learn more about 1026 Conti Street.

Main photo: Chris Wiltz

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.