Thursday, May 1, 2008

This old house...under construction

Early on I mentioned in a comment on this blog what it's like to have a contractor for a husband . . . or a friend. Little did I know that I was about to discover the true meaning of my own words.

Last fall when I left for my winter home in Florida I sat down with my friend, who's been a contractor for many years. He's done plenty of work for me including the renovations of my bookstore -- twice -- and the major overhaul of my kitchen. I had two interior projects I wanted to have done over the winter because they'd be so disruptive to my life if done while I was actually living in the house. I was having a good bit of my main bathroom gutted and having my office/guest room painted and the closet built out to contain a section for office supplies, another for gift wrap and a section for guests' clothes. We went over paint chips, a sketch of the closet and so on.

Off I went to Florida last October, happily envisioning the changes I would find on my return. I passed along model numbers for a new sink and a new toilet. I found just the right faucets. Then I conducted a hunt for floor tile, after being assured that changing the tile wouldn't delay the project.

We had many conversations over the winter, though few about the projects. About a month before my return, he asked oh-so-innocently, "Now, just when are you coming back?" A cold chill raced down my spine. Then, "Which of those paint colors did we decide on for the bathroom?" I did not find this reassuring.

When I was more than halfway here, visiting with friends in South Carolina, I got another call. When installing the new faucets in the shower, he'd discovered a leak. This on a Sunday, in a town where finding the plumber can be a full-time job on a weekday. The next day, somewhere in North Carolina as I drove on I-95, there was another call. The plumber would be here before the day was out, but there was a second leak. Now, neither shower nor toilet were functional. I almost made a U-turn and went back to Florida.

It is now just over two weeks since I drove up to find an old sink and toilet in my side yard, then walked in the door and found my dining room piled high with bags filled with stuff removed from the medicine cabinet and the storage unit in the bathroom. An hour after I arrived I was sorting through junk, some dating back to my mother who died 30 years ago!! Please, let's not consider what that says about me as a housekeeper, okay? The point is I was immediately overwhelmed by the chaos.

The story does have a happier ending. I have a functioning bathroom again(it took three days total for the plumber to deal with the leak -- one day to track him down, one day on the job and another day to fix what was still leaking after the first visit). My office is organized enough that I can actually sit down and write without thinking I should be hanging curtains or throwing out yet more junk.

This tale of woe is not meant to make you feel sorry for me (though a little sympathy would be appreciated), but to explain why I haven't done a blog for a couple of weeks. Now I would absolutely love to hear your horror stories about renovations that have gone awry, taken longer than expected, or even the bright and shining examples of things that turned out exactly the way you wanted them to, and on time. Click on comments below and share your experiences with us, or email them to me at and I'll post them for you.

As for my contractor, we're still friends. After all, we've known each other since we were 12, so we know way too many of each other's secrets. And even when I find him the most frustrating, I know I can count on him to get the job done with meticulous attention to detail. He's very, very good at what he does . . . and driving some 100 miles round trip each day to work for me probably is above and beyond.

And now that I can walk into a bathroom that looks even better than I envisioned it, or into an office that's freshly painted and almost organized, I like him even more.




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