When Mary and Wayne asked me to contribute to the Solluna Builders blog, I seized the moment. This was my opportunity to warn unwitting remodelers about the pitfalls of color wheels, grout, and the cost of doing business with a Graduate Master Builder. For anyone who has ever read a memoir about the trials of remodeling or living in a space that sorely needs it -- think A Year in Provence by Peter Mayles, or Someone Stole My Outhouse and Other Tales of Home Improvement by Cindy Bellinger -- it’s enough to make you run the other direction. It takes guts and a lot of faith to embark upon such an adventure. Did my remodeling story have a happy ending? Keep reading and find out.
I moved to Austin from Louisiana last August, trading beignets for BBQ and a new job. I found a great condo in the center of town that was tired-looking and needed new life. Sort of like me. It was perfect. I had been itinerant for a full year with all my belongings in storage. To say that I was desperate for a space of my own is not an exaggeration.
A friend had recommended Wayne’s contracting services following her major -- and stunning -- remodeling project. So I took the bait and jumped into the world of remodeling, handing my life and money over to a complete stranger.
I am happy to report that this remodeling stuff isn’t that bad after all. I survived with my sanity intact. Unfortunately, some subcontractors with whom I had the pleasure of working did not meet such a fortunate fate. I don’t get it. I only called them 167 times a week at all hours of the day and night. Grow up, guys.
Wayne and Mary took me out to Maudie’s. What a great omen, I thought to myself! This will be a happy and harmonious working relationship. And as fate would have it, we all ordered the same thing. Chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce and house margaritas. This must be karma! We are at one with Mexican food. It did not escape my attention, however, that Wayne pulled out the remodeling contract shortly after my second margarita. Aside from the fact that I was seeing double and had temporarily lost my ability to comprehend the English language (a rather awkward conundrum for a speech pathologist), I had to go to the bathroom but couldn’t find it so I signed on the dotted line and off we went into the world of demolition.
“Don’t worry, Mev. The twelve-foot-high mound of trash piled in your living room and the dust clogging your A/C filters are only temporary. Trust me! That grunge coating your windows? Not to worry. Someone will clean it up as soon as we figure out what it is.” Thank you, Wayne. How can you expect me to trust you when I cannot even breathe? Twelve A/C filters later, I resigned myself to a life on oxygen.
It has come to my attention that things get done faster if I bring donuts. But not just any donuts. What’s wrong with Krispy Kremes, I ask? No, it has to be Shipley’s. OK, I can do that. Shipley’s is on my way to work. But then it has to be chocolate Shipley’s, and it has to be a truckload. OK, OK. I can do that. I just want to move into my condo! Wayne listens as he slowly, contemplatively fondles his donut. I feel for the first time that he has empathy for me. He nibbles on his chocolate Shipley’s, looks thoughtfully at me as I share my concerns about deadlines, and he offers the magic word: schedule. I am so grateful for the end in sight that I even drive to Round Rock Donuts, the donut Mecca of Texas, and buy him a giant apple fritter out of gratitude for proposing a completion date. But no, the stakes have been raised. Now it’s tequila. What a cry-baby, I think to myself. OK, OK. Will Patron Silver do? He says yes and off we go into the world of change orders.
“Wayne?” “Yes, Mev?” “I was just thinking I want to make a few changes to our original proposal. Nothing major. Just some electrical work, painting modifications, and a new vision for the renovation and how it will impact humankind.” “No problem. I am here to serve you. That change order will cost you 216 dozen donuts, a magnum of Patron Silver, and $176,429.” “OK.”
I couldn’t sleep one night thinking about the master bathroom.
“Uh Wayne?” “Now what?” “I was just wondering. What’s that weird box doing in my master shower? We didn’t talk about that. I know you’ve had a long week but can you wake up just long enough to explain it to me?” “We had to do it that way, Mev, to hide some water pipes. Now go away.” “But I don’t like it, Wayne. It’s weird.” “Let’s deal with it in the morning.” “OK, Wayne, but it is morning. It’s 4:45 a.m.”
Happily, the box problem got solved and I now have the most beautiful bathroom in Austin.
I should interject here that tile, grout, and I go way back. It has been a tumultuous relationship. I narrowly escaped a PTSD diagnosis following tile-related remodeling projects in Tucson and Santa Fe, where I once lived.
“Hello Ron? This is Wayne’s client Mev Jenson. Remember me?” “How could I forget? You call me every day about grout.” “You’re doing the tile work on my Austin condo renovation. I know it’s 3:17 a.m. and you were probably sleeping, but I just wanted to make sure I told you Smoke Grey and not Natural Grey for the master bathroom grout.” “Got it.” “One more thing, Ron. Do you think Smoke Grey is the right choice?” “Go away, Mev.” “OK.”
“Uh, Ron? Hi again. Don’t hang up! I have this irrational fear that my grout lines will be discolored. Can you promise me that you will seal the grout?”
I don’t know what it is, but choosing paint colors drives me nuts. Who knew there were so many options and so many choices to be made? It really should be a pleasurable experience. I mean, who doesn’t like color? I think the fact that there are 2,347,986 choices may have something to do with it. Damn that Kelly-Moore! Do I want Banana Crème, Acapulco Aqua, or Iced Chai? Do I want contrasting trim? What’s the difference between eggshell and satin finishes and who really cares? Do I want light colors that open the space or dark colors that recede? And what do those color terms really mean, anyway? Isn’t “recede” a word that applies to hairlines and not paint? Speaking of hair, mine is rapidly becoming Grey Morning Mist, or is it Weathered White? And so I made the decision to boldly move forward on my own into the world of the color wheel and let it spin me as it may. That hefty bundle of paint samples was my constant companion, occupying my front seat for months. It came with me to work, where I would longingly reach for it during a quiet moment, hoping for inspiration. It sat on my nightstand, waiting to comfort me during those sleepless nights when I felt blue and wanted to feel pink. Although I respect the role of a design consultant, I knew that such services would be limited in my case because my tastes are so specific and because all my stuff was still in storage and only I could imagine what it would look like.
“Hello Jaime? This is Wayne’s client, Mev Jenson. You are painting my condo. I know it’s 2:36 a.m. but I was just wondering if you think Banana Crème or Acapulco Aqua is the better color for my guest room? “ “I’m sleeping, Mev. Go away.” “OK.”
“Hello Jaime? I’m so sorry. This is Mev again. I couldn’t sleep and wondered if you might join me in an iced chai to discuss colors that have names like Iced Chai and Mocha Motion.” “Go away, Mev.” “OK”.
“Hi again. It’s me. The sun is about to come up and before you get started on your day, I wanted to run this idea by you. I want my master bath to have a Zen-sexy feel. Like what the Dalai Lama might choose if he weren’t celibate. Any ideas on good colors?”
“Hello Jaime? Hello? Anybody there?”
The crew is getting testy. I’m hoping the plumber won’t get wet feet and walk off the job. Just my luck, the floor guy will fall through the cracks. And I sure hope I won’t have to ground the electrician. The crews have finished their parts and only Jaime is left. Sort of. I can explain. I changed my color palate only 27 times, so don’t blame me. Blame Kelly-Moore. Jaime took it relatively well. The night he hung up on me, he was transported by ambulance to the state mental hospital. They diagnosed it as client-induced temporary psychosis. Huh? That’s just plain nuts. How come they didn’t blame Kelly-Moore? They induced it with their 2,347,986 color choices, not I. I have been visiting him in the hospital every day. He seems to be getting better. When I visit, I hold his hand, and we speak of happier times when color wheels were sources of inspiration and not tools of torture. Damn that Kelly-Moore!
“Hi Jaime. It’s Mev. I know you must be sleepy from all the meds, but I need to share something with you.” “Who?” “Mev. Mev Jenson. I’m Wayne’s client.” “Who’s Wayne?” “OK, so Jaime, there’s just way too much yellow going on in the condo. I cannot spend the rest of my life feeling as if I am living inside a banana. We need to repaint some of the rooms.” “Zzzzzzzz.”
It has all come together, by some miracle! My condo is now a home wrapped in delicious colors, organic textural tile, and exquisite lighting thanks to an exceptional crew. The pile of debris actually disappeared, and I cannot wait to make the space my own. Lowe’s will be relieved to have me out of their stock room, where I set up a temporary shelter during the past eight weeks.
This renovation could not have happened without the expert guidance of a Graduate Master Builder, who happens to be a general contractor with the patience of a saint and the generosity of heart to bring a homeowner’s dreams to life. He also has good taste in tequila. True, he did not ultimately accept donuts or tequila in lieu of payment, but who can blame him?
Some Things I Know
The truth is, I do know quite a lot about remodeling. Be specific about what you want. Trust yourself. Stay on top of all the things that are important to you because your contractor isn’t a mind-reader. Don’t assume he gets it. You need to tell him. Know your budget. Take charge. It’s your project. Choose someone with good credentials and a solid reputation.
I also know something about donuts. Apple fritters are the way to go. Bear claws will do in a pinch. And maybe I do know just a little about the meaning of life. I think it has a lot to do with relationships and how they are forged with laughter and love.
And so my remodeling saga draws to a close. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Even though I now count donuts in my sleep instead of sheep, that really isn’t such a bad thing. I was never that fond of lamb, anyway. It has been a remarkably creative, fun, rejuvenating experience with a general contractor partner who listened, responded, and joined me every step of the way. The condo took on new life and so did I.
The process has grafted me into a new family of friends. We are a mosaic of colorful Talavera tiles intricately arranged and forever bonded. With grout. Oh dear, I hope someone remembered to seal it.
[Editor's note: See photos of Mev Jenson's remodeled condo.]