I spent this past weekend in NYC with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Suzanne.
Oh my, WE go way back and have shared a myriad of experiences. But most recently we spent last year, simultaneously renovating our respective homes. I guided Suzanne through the ins and outs, finding faucets and choosing subway tile and colors and she inspired me by her willingness to try new things and embrace change.
We both had many stories to tell…the highs and and the lows…the unwelcome surprises that come with old homes and the treasures uncovered while gutting them. We talked a lot about what we learned and we agreed:
NO, RENOVATING AND REDECORATING your home is not brain surgery.
It does not save lives.
But when you are in the midst of a HOME renovation or even a simple makeover or project…It CAN FEEL LIFE OR DEATH.
Sometimes you just have to ride it out. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself, when you settle yourself into your sofa which has been your bed for the third month in a row because your real bed in covered with plastic…
…you just have to tell yourself…
“IT WILL BE BEAUTIFUL”!
I cannot believe that a few months ago my shower was this:
and now is this!
Suzanne lives in a beautiful garden apartment in New York City and I live in a Big Old Country House in Virginia….our homes are about the same age OLD…but there were many differences in our homes…But we both agreed……..
Dealing with Contractors is an Art form in itself…
COMMUNICATION IS KEY….AND often I have felt like, based on THEIR actions, WHOLE conversations never happened. In all fairness… is not their home, and it is not unusual to feel like they just do not care…and in truth…they actually probably don’t! But that does not mean that you cannot still communicate with them how you are feeling.
Because it IS YOUR home
I have come up with some RULES to deal with the powers that be..whoever the THEY may be…contractors, electricians, plumbers…and the other people working in your home.
1. BE NICE- I once asked a pre school teacher, who was always as calm as a cucumber…
“Were you this calm with your own kids?” …her response was both comforting and vaidating…she said “I always told my 3 boys, ‘I will ask NICE TWICE…after that, you get what you get’!” This gave her boys the option of having some control over how they were spoken to. If they listened the first or even second time…all would stay calm on the homefront…after that…well, we all know how THAT goes. So I always ask nice…at least twice…
2. GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING – Even as I write this we are in the midst of negotiating some charges which we feel are unjust. Hours and work we were charged for that I KNOW are over-charges…it infuriates me…their word against mine…Had we had the quotes for the work in writing NONE of this would have happened.
In addition, I no longer will pay by the hour BUT BY THE JOB…there is really no way to predict how long a job will take in this old house and I have learned the hard way to ONLY pay BY THE JOB.
3. ANY TIME FRAME THEY GIVE YOU – DOUBLE IT – I fought this one HARD. I did the math..”okay”..I calculated..” TILE…3 days, painting…2 days…framing…3 days etc etc” and I thought “IF I DID THIS IT WOULD TAKE BLAH BLAH…this much time.”…Thing is , I was NOT doing the work. And I did not have 3 other HOME jobs I was juggling, or blizzards in March and I did not take lunch breaks and smoke breaks and just don’t feel like showing up…breaks. Look, if the job comes in early…you will be so very happily surprised…but save yourself the frustration and disappointment …
4. INSIST THINGS ARE KEPT CLEAN but you CAN HELP – I was grateful to have workers that took pride in their workspace…STILL…this is not their home and at the end of the day…It was still too dusty for me and too messy for me. I covered the entire upstairs hall with recycled cardboard because I was realistic…there was NO way that they would be able to keep that floor free from damage over two months time. And honestly by 4 o’clock in the afternoon I just wanted my house back…and was happy to sweep up in my house alone and not to have them cleaning and taking smoke breaks while my kids did their homework.
and that brings me to…
5. CLEAN UP YOUR BUTTS!!! – MY DRIVEWAY looks like the back alley of a bar… and I wish I had the sense to leave a tin can out there for them. I really don’t care what they do, if they smoke that is their business, but clean up your butts for Pete’s sake!!!….
which brings me to….
6. BE A TATTLE TALE WHEN YOU HAVE TO…BUT SAVE IT FOR THE IMPORTANT THINGS.. – The last thing I wanted to be known as was the “BITCH who complains about everything” so I let some things slide…when one guy dropped unsmoked cigarettes all over my hallway…I just tossed them, when they would get there a half hour late, I took advantage on 30 minutes in my house alone…but when they crushed the corner of my rangehood JAMMING it in, or gouged the kids vanity installing it…I needed to speak to the BOSS MAN.
which brings me to…
7. STAY CALM AND KEEP THE RELATIONSHIP INTACT….I DEALT with most of the day-to-day communication, I was there and could see what was going on. BUT.. if the issue was really BIG…I called in the BIG GUNS…Damon…I let Hubby do the speaking. This is NOT because he is a man and better at this than me, but because when you want to keep a working relationship productive and intact, and I do because after 9 years we finally have a great crew to help up with our old house…EMOTIONS can get in the way. I get too emotional. This house is my BABY…I put my whole heart and soul into the work, and the results, and I am unable to be calm when someone threatens it. My husband has a way of staying calm and still getting his point across. And isn’t that what I want?
which brings me to…
8. GET A WITNESS – There were some days where I would bring a friend by…show her the progress, get her opinions, and validate choices...and EVERY SINGLE TIME I noticed the guys would be on their best behavior answer questions, work and not take as many smoke breaks …and it gave me an opportunity to get feedback which was invaluable…and important because you can get so tunnel visioned you simply cannot see the forest(your home) for the trees (workers) .
9 and10. THIS warrants TWO spots because it is SO VERY IMPORTANT –
DO NOT ALLOW THE WORK ON YOUR HOUSE TO HURT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AT HOME...This is a tough one. Frustrations run high. And the same way that you did not truly KNOW your spouse until you parented together…or suffered a loss together….you do not know your partner until you endure your home being torn apart together. People react differently. Or DON’T react at all! I was calm about some things…and completely a FREAK about others…and my husband and I never seemed to be in the same place at the same time. I would get angry at him when really I was mad at our house being such a HUGE mess. In retrospect is probably a good thing we took turns being calm…because if we both were unravelling…who would raise the kids???….
seriously….JUST take a deep breath. GET AWAY WHENEVER YOU CAN. Our Spring Break trip to the beach and my trip to LA…saved me…Gave me perspective. Recharged my battery. and I am happy to say…We made it out alive!!!
Now, lets us see if I can follow my own rules!!!
I cannot imagine building a whole house…that I have heard makes all of this look like child’s play…