There Have Been Men In My House

Over the last few months we have been having a lot of work done on our house: we have a new bathroom, a spectacular book case, a redecorated stairwell – along with the removal of several layers of nasty old wallpaper – considerably better floors – along with the removal of the nasty old carpets – and an open plan lower floor to our house, thanks to a removed wall. It was a lot to do.

The upshot of all of this is that, while we have the house we had been looking for, with all of the features we were hoping to incorporate, the house is truly ours now. Before, it had felt very much like we were living in someone else’s house: the previous owners or the tenants who had rented it from them. Having ownership of your own home has been such a cathartic experience for us.

As I’m sure you can well imagine this has not all run smoothly. We spent years trying to get someone to knock down our dining room wall, to create an open plan downstairs: that was the barrier to so much of the work we wanted to do. If we hadn’t felt so blocked by that we wouldn’t have started work on the bathroom when we did. It ended up starting on the same day as the wall came down.

Now that much of the dust has settled – largely from plastering and the cutting down of Victorian lath and plaster – we are in a position of being able to see what we have. Not everything is perfect, I must admit. I’m not saying that the work was shoddy, but there have been some unexpected things I feel the need to get off my chest. Some of these men need to learn to clean up after themselves.

The first rumblings of discord came about in the finishing of the wall we had removed. The edges were not finished, and there was a big pile of crap in our front garden. While we got the crap taken away we’ve had to hire our usual handyman to finish the skirting boards and to tidy up the rough edges. Hiring people to finish the work of others doesn’t say much about the original team.

That would be a trend since the work was finished which I hadn’t seen coming, but really very much should have: getting a bunch of companies to do work on your house does not mean that their work will fit together; getting someone in to smooth out the connections may well be the best, if not the most logical, option. If we had hired someone to hire all these trades, it would have all fit together.

That said, some of the scheduling was an issue. When we hired the guys to do our bathroom, I was sure that they had said that it would only take a few days. I had clearly misunderstood. They were here for two weeks, while we crapped in a bucket. The problem is that some world class snowing had ruined the start of their work, so the end was rushed. The edging, the grouting and some of the details in the darkened corners, will need further attention in the years to come. I blame the snow.

Overlapping trades was not something I had expected to be such a problem. Not because I thought that all trades would work well together, but because I never thought that we would have more than one set of people working in our house at the same time. The day that we had the decorators in at the same time as the plumbers was a mess: the decorators had used so much steam that they blew our electrics out, stopping the plumbers in their tracks. They then disappeared, leaving us to dry out.

Water dripped through light fittings. That was a tense few hours, with the plumbers having to resort to battery packs to power both their lights and their tools. We made it through in the end. Just.

Between the vagaries of scheduling, the conflicts of power supplies, the problems of edging and intersections I am so glad that we have had all of this done. I hadn’t realised that the work would be far from perfect, and I feel rather stupid for that. I look forward to all of the connections being finished and to the edges being as crisp I had imagined: the problem now is momentum.

Many of the last bits to be done come down to us: we have to fill the new furniture with our old stuff and then get rid of the old furniture which it was meant to replace. The problem is finding time to do that and having the motivation to lift heavy things around a now lovely looking house. The momentum we had when the trades were in has ebbed away, leaving behind piles of our stuff.

When it was the fault of people who weren’t us it was manageable. Now that we are the issue, it is so easy just to sweep our own lack of forward motion under the carpet. That is untenable. My capacity for lying to myself about the tasks I am not going to do right now is limitless. That is not a big help for getting the big Ikea cabinet across to my mother’s house. We’ll get there in time.

I look at the work of tradespeople in a different light now. Part way through the process, we were building a coat rack of our own design. There just happened to be a cabinet maker in the house at the time, filling a whole wall with a bookcase for us. I was using my tools to get this rack up on the wall, but I was failing. I didn’t have enough power, either in my tools or in my arms. He did.

The cabinet maker – who is fitting a new unit in our kitchen as I type these very words – stepped in with his own extremely powerful drill and forced the screws home with ease. He could push harder than I can and he knew how to make things work. That’s the difference between an amateur like me trying to hang something my partner has built and getting a professional in to do something well.

Yesterday, from my work window, I could see a pair of young men filling a hole in the pavement of my street, left by the local water supplier. They mixed concrete in seconds and floated the whole section to perfection while I let my dogs out for a pee. I wouldn’t know where to start with that, and it made me realise that that was the point: I knew how to operate an office, not how to build things.

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