Flexibility, organization are keys to renovations Expect the unexpected


keep your cool and adjust

December 21, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

IT WAS SUCH a good idea. Karol saw it in one of those kitchen and bath idea magazines, where an architectural nuisance, a structural beam, had been turned into an asset by adding a double-sided shelf on the bottom to display plates and collectibles.

Since Karol's kitchen has the same structural problem -- a beam between the old kitchen and the new addition -- she thought it would be great to have a shelf there.

She talked it over with the contractor, and he said he thought it could be done.

Two versions later, a dismayed homeowner and a frustrated carpenter decided it simply wasn't going to work.

There were several problems. The first version, framed in 2-by-4s, was too massive for the small space.

The second version, made of shelving material (which resists warping), was the right thickness, but it was too wide. It interfered with the view of the beautiful pyramid-topped windows at the end of the addition.

In fact, there didn't seem to be any way to construct the double shelf that didn't interfere with the view. Once they realized that, Karol and the contractor agreed that the shelf idea should be abandoned.

She apologized for wasting the contractor's time, and he (needlessly) apologized because he hadn't been able to make it work. They agreed it was one of those things that had to be tried before all the implications became clear.

The contractor went back to work on the walls, and Karol went Christmas shopping.

Simple story, but it illustrates one of the underlying principles in having a happy home-renovation project: flexibility.

That and organization are the two pillars on which any project must rest.

If you've never done any kind of renovation, it is bound to come as a shock how many things will go wrong. In fact, it's a miracle that so many projects do get done, more or less on time and more or less on budget.

But if you think about it, it makes sense: You are bringing together a lot of disparate elements.

There are different building trades, different suppliers, different supply houses and lots of different personalities. No one has complete control over all the elements.

The electrician can't help it if the plumber is in a bad mood and saws through a couple of joists, and the plumber can't help it if the plans he was shown didn't have a wall in that particular location.

Whatever happens, you need to keep your cool -- for your sake, not for anyone else's. It helps to keep things in perspective.

All home-improvement problems have solutions. Some of them will be compromises, but they will be there.

Home improvement is disruptive, annoying and expensive, but it doesn't last forever. Try to keep the end of the project in mind for those bad days when nothing seems to be going right.

Don't overcommit yourself by scheduling entertaining or family visits while construction is going on.

Don't schedule a party for the day after the completion date -- you need some time to find out how the new or renovated space functions, and to make sure that everything in it works properly.

Set aside some money in your budget for unexpected situations. It's inevitable that things will break or not work and have to be replaced.

Prices may change. Give yourself a little cushion and you'll be much calmer when these things happen.

Home improvement is also messy. Put away everything in the house that you can, especially breakable items and things that catch dust.

You may get a splendidly obsessed contractor who sweeps up every mote, but more likely you will have to clean up dusty footprints every day.

You've hired a construction team, not a housekeeper. They are building something, not taking care of you. Count on taking care of yourself, and taking care of your property while work is going on.

The point is, stay in charge, but minimize frustration by anticipating problems and doing your part to keep the process moving. Just about everything will work out.

Karol is going to get a shelf after all. The contractor figured out how to put a narrow shelf on the addition side of the beam. It will go at the top of the beam, not the bottom, so it won't show at all from the other side and won't interfere with the view.

It's not quite what she wanted, but it works, and it will perfectly accommodate her collection of china pink flamingos.

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at homeworlark.net, or karol.menzialtsun.com.

Or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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