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January, 2006:

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

Well, week 2 has now ended, and we’re actually getting a lot accomplished. Perhaps not everything that we would have hoped, but truly that’s inevitable. Other things happen sooner, other things happen later, and everything works out in the end.

We’re coming down to crunch decisions– where will the island in the kitchen go– what if we put the dishwasher here, the refrigerator there– but will it feel congested if the refrigerator is there? And wait a minute, where’s the counterspace for the fridge.

Of course, you can’t have everything– Aaron and I were talking, and he said, “You know, I hear different things from you– We want an intimate space, but with a formal feeling. We want to preserve the house integrity, but we want to be able to accomodate a large amount of people. One choice, sometimes means you can’t have the other choice. And so you have to choose.”

He’s 100% right– we do have to make these choices, and who knows what will end up being best. We are getting closer all the time– I think we have to remember to choose function over form– what will be the most comfortable for us– not what will look the best, or match the integrity of the house closer– because ultimately, we are going to have to LIVE with it– and speaking for myself, I’d rather look weird and be comfortable than be uncomfortable and look good (not that I can’t do both! :o) )

A hard and thankless job

I’ve been ripping up carpet on the third floor, and I did all of the rooms, and pulled up the carpet firring on the sides, and then prepared for what unexpectedly was the hardest part of it all— pulling up the carpeting on the stairs.

First of all, the stairs are very tight, so they are MUCH harder to pull up then the regular carpet– but even more importantly, because they are so tight, they’ve got about a million staples holding htem in place. Not only did I have to manhandle the carpet up piece at a time (and each piece is separately cut, but then I had to pull up the carpet padding which was all stapled in. Some of the staples (okay, most of them) stayed in the wood, and then I had to go up and down the floor with a screwdriver, attempting to pull out all of the staples.

I did manage to get most of them (but not all-I have a hard time shaving all of the hairs on my face, let alone physically pluck deeply embedded staples from a hardwood floor.) But I did get most of them, and it’s primarily done– I still have to go over the floors of the three rooms and pluck the most egregious staples from the floor before I feel confident enough to hire some professional carpet guy to come in and do the same.

I can tell you this though– 15 years from now– I AM not pulling up any more carpet staples– let the carpet rot, for all I care!

Things proceeding on schedule…

I’ve been keeping tabs on the project mostly via telephone lately, as I’ve been all over the place. The work is going very well, and so far the schedule that we’ve developed is pretty much right on target. We’re spending this next week setting things up so that we’ll be right and ready for the tradesmen (plumbers/electricians/heating guys/etc.) to come in and do their thing, and then close it all up and finish it. We’ve still got some design stuff to iron out (kitchen and also upstairs bathroom), but I feel we’ve got a good handle on where we are going, and are moving along. It’s not to say that things couldn’t still stall out– we still need to firm up those tradesmen– so far we’ve gotten very expensive quotes– and while it might just be that the work just costs a lot to do– I feel I need to do the due diligence before signing off.

Working on this project has reminded me/informed me of a few things.

#1) It’s great to renew old friendships. Aaron and I met 15+ years ago, he built a couple of shows that I was in, and was also one of the main actors for my Master’s Thesis. We were fairly good friends back then, but I moved away, he moved away, other things happened, and you know, keeping people in your life when you’ve moved away is super hard. But it almost feels like we didn’t drift away for 15 years. It’s kind of amazing, that sort of friendship chemistry. It can pick up almost where we left off.

#2) It’s great to have somebody that you trust implicitly on site everyday, and somebody who you know is working for you and looking for you. I don’t know that I could be travelling and/or working away from the project without somebody like Aaron– somebody that I have faith in and a relationship with, a relationship longer than the time it took to read over their references and write a deposit check.

#3) I’ve been there helping out and doing labor projects, like pulling out the third floor carpet, etc. Although I’m not particularly fond of the hard labor stuff, it’s fairly satisfying when you are done, and there is a big pile of cutup carpet on the floor, and you can say “Hey– I did that!” It’s a good feeling.

Anyway, I’ll be back onsite tomorrow and Friday, getting more quotes from tons of people, doing more grunt labor that needs to be done, and will almost certainly be wiping more sweat off my brow and saying “Hey, I did that!” (and hopefully, not wiping blood off my fingers and screeching “Ow! Why did I do that!”)

Ceremonial deconstruction

So, the house is finally under construction. At least that’s what Adam tells me. He was over there on Monday for the ceremonial first drywall-pulling-down with Aaron, who showed up bright and early with scaffolding in tow.

Apparently Aaron (or maybe Aaron and Adam, though I’m sure mainly Aaron) removed all of the drywall on the garage ceiling and says that the beams above (holding up the garage roof) are not as bad as we’d expected – there are a few places that need repair, but it’s mainly the spots we already knew about. I was worried that once we saw all of the beams there’d be rot and distress all over the place, and at least this time my fears were unfounded. (I’m sure my next set of fears will be right on target.)

It’s a bit disconcerting that we’re not living in the house and therefore I’m not over there to see any progress. I tried to get there last night but got home too late, and tonight will be the same – so tomorrow evening will be my first glimpse at Aaron’s work to date. I think he’s broken out the wall between the closets in the master bedroom and back bedroom, which will create a master closet and entrance to the master bath. We have to really work on the plans for that quickly, because it wasn’t on my original list of Phase I projects, but Aaron convinced me that we should do all the deconstruction/construction in the house now. Even if we can’t afford to furnish the new bathroom yet, at least we’ll have all of the major dust and damage out of the way when we move in. I think Aaron is also working on kitchen deconstruction this week; we need to get that planned out too, so we can order cabinets (or start building Ikea ones).

Actually, that’s our next big decision, mainly driven by budget. Do we buy good (not superb, but good) stock cabinets, like KraftMaid from our local Kitchen and Bath designer, or Ikea cabinets? There seems to be around a $5,000-7,000 difference between the two options, which totally makes the difference between granite countertops and great faucets/sinks or laminate countertops and cheap fixtures. I think when it comes down to it I’d rather have the granite counter and great fixtures and live with the Ikea cabinets for the moment, but I’m worried about the resale value of a kitchen built from Ikea – even if it’s otherwise stylish and beautiful. But we just can’t afford both great cabinets and great counters/fixtures, it’s going to have to be one or the other. Adam would now add, “unless we win the lottery.”

Our very own Stan

My family in Chicago has a dear friend named Stan who is our home-related guardian angel. Stan has been part of the family for years, probably decades, and he’s there for every house- (or office-) related project that my family undertakes. There have been many times in the 7+ years I’ve lived in New York that I’ve wished Stan could just appear on my doorstep – especially now that we’re trying to renovate this house. I even tried to convince him to move to Yonkers for a month or two to take on our project – and though I think he was tempted (the lure of renovating our Victorian was pretty great), I think his wife Polly would have killed me. (We love Polly too, so we don’t want to get on her bad side!)

So, without a smart, grounding force like Stan, we’ve been paralyzed by indecision the last few weeks, as we’ve interviewed way too many contractors and have too many differing opinions. We discuss nearly every detail with my brother and sister-in-law, because they’ve just finished renovating their 1920s house in Los Angeles, and also consult numerous other friends and family members. What Adam and I have been left with is the feeling that we are just not educated enough in what we need to know to think we can make good decisions.

However, I think we’ve been sent our own guardian angel. Aaron is a friend of Adam’s from way back in Providence, and he’s now a builder who lives in Westchester County. Until last week he was only a concept to me – someone who might have been able to do our project but was tied up and so therefore not in the running. But suddenly he’s on our team! Starting this Monday, Aaron will be at the house every single day, doing all of the interior construction and also overseeing other contractors.

Aaron estimates that all of our interior construction will take about 2 months, including the kitchen construction and the master bath/closet construction. It may take longer for cabinets, etc., but at least if we can get the majority of the demolition and building done then it will be easier for us to live there.

Speaking of living there, it’s looking like I might actually move at the end of January. My building has not rented my apartment for Feb 1 but I posted it myself on Craig’s List today and already have one interested person. I’d like to get out of the apartment by then so that I don’t have to pay February rent (my lease is up at the end of February) – but it’s also impossible to envision that I’ll be packed by then, and very scary to think that I’ll be living in a huge mess at the new house.

But I think we’re unparalyzed. We’ll know for sure on Monday!