Saturday, September 09, 2006

Home Improvement for Dummies

Thank you to Rox and Doug who offered their renovation suggestions after reading my last post. We've particularly enjoyed reading The Inept Homeowner's Guide to Surviving Renovation and Remodeling your Home: Avoiding Litigation and the Resulting Cost Overruns. Both are enlightening books on the subject making me want to kick myself for not fighting through Bob Vila's prickly exterior to make friends with him that day I was behind him in line at the Whole Foods.

I am pleased to report that we've finally found a design/build firm that inspires confidence and doesn't threaten to send us over the edge into the money pit. We've spent the last few weeks working with Mike, the lead estimator, to do the planning required before we sign the contract and work begins. Mike's a character and a no-nonsense straight shooter. It's funny how quickly we've gotten to know and trust him. As soon as I see him furrow his brow and put his head in his hands, I know I've asked for too much. Once when I asked him what would happen if we raised Sam's bedroom ceiling to the rafters, he told me, "Your husband might kill you." This is the same guy who called me a tree hugger when he heard I was interested in Lyptus cabinets. If he thinks I'm a tree hugger, he should see my son.

We learned a few things making the selections for our place in Arizona and we're trying to learn from that experience. This project is different though; we have not only the finishes to choose but also the layout. Whereas last time, we picked the tile, countertops and light fixtures, this time we need to determine where walls should be. It's much more like building from scratch when you tear out so much of what's existing. Planning the details takes precious minutes, hours, days. One of the many contractors who came to the house advised us that erasing a line in a plan is much easier than knocking down a wall. We're heeding his advice and making sure that the plan is one we've fully thought through before any demolition begins. It's a little maddening but a necessary exercise in self-control. On several occasions Bob has restrained me with my sledgehammer from taking matters into my own eager hands.

We hope the updates will modernize the home in terms of how it meets our family’s needs, but the implementation will be done in a style reminiscent of its earlier origin. On our real estate venturing, I was often struck by how glorious cherry cabinets and wall-to-wall stainless appliances felt out of place in humble homes of a similar vintage to ours. It is a personal preference of course, but I feel we owe it to the house to respect the years it stood before we were even born. We can do that by making selections that harken back to an earlier time with its own set of principles and ideals. It's one way I can help those principles persist.

In this life where so much stuff is disposable, I hope that one day our house will be worthy of a discreet placard on the front noting its date of construction and original owner. But that's a long way off. For now, I'll rely on the Colonial charm in its structural symmetry, warm hardwood floors, and crystal doorknobs from which to draw inspiration. Whatever changes we make, I know the decisions made now will result in the establishment of our surroundings for years to come. Every design decision is a commitment and for better or worse, I've awoken in the morning wondering if sconces might be a better lighting option in the powder room. Perhaps it's design fatigue, maybe it's a symptom of being TKO--whatever it is, I'm taking tomorrow off to enjoy the onset of Fall in the great city of Boston with my best guys.
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