Houses and Spouses
Last week, I gave a lecture at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY, entitled “Houses & Spouses: The Dark Side of Preservation.” It’s autobiographical, and based upon my travails in The Butchy Chronicles and my Carpenter’s Stigmata blog. The talk relates what I’ve learned about old houses and how they can simultaneously destroy bank accounts and spousal relationships.
And the audience found it pretty darned funny.
This isn’t intended to be a self-promotional piece. It’s meant to be more about how we, as contractors, designers and architects should be mindful of how traumatic it is to be a homeowner in the throes of a restoration. While I’ve never had to live with a newborn, conversations with those who have indicate that the toll it takes on one’s psyche and interpersonal relationships is remarkably similar to a studs-out kitchen renovation. I wonder if we removed children and old houses from this dynamic, whether our national divorce rate would remain at 50%.
We in the building and restoration trades tend to think of our clients as something between a partner and a revenue source, but we should also learn to empathize and consider what it’s like to be forced to wash dishes in the bathtub for six weeks because the AWOL plumber is waiting for back-ordered fixtures or contend with plaster dust mixed with our coffee grounds.
We’re used to being the ones in work boots clomping through someone else’s house at seven in the morning, but rarely is that boot on the other foot – our struggling into clothes and trying to gobble breakfast while a boom box blares the mandatory unending play list of Journey and Foreigner songs accompanied by the chatter of an air compressor. Sure, it’s a mess ripping apart someone else’s house, but as my friend, who is a criminal defense attorney, says, “Unlike some of my clients, I always get to go home at night.”
I’ve been on sites where the general contractor did a brilliant job of creating a campaign kitchen and sealing off the demolition from the rest of the household, but, even still, the owners and their children had to contend with the various functions of their kitchen being spread out over several rooms and floors of their house. As a job progresses, the inevitable delays and overruns occur, and the owners are worn down not only by the usually familial sagas, but also by the fact that simply making a sandwich takes more effort than going to the sub shop.
This is just at the point when we’re stressing out due to our own cash-flow and subcontractor issues. Suddenly, then, our former partner-client can become a little adversarial. To us, those tardy window units are a logistical problem; to them, it means three more weeks with the fridge in the dining room. Despite whatever challenges await you as tradesperson, never forget what it’s like to be a client: They are at home every night.