'Two messy months later, the Great Bathroom Project is done'

Last modified: 10/24/2010 12:00:00 AM
It was First Flush Time minus 20 hours when two things occurred to us. One, we had clearly absorbed the lingo of entirely too many televised rocket liftoffs in our earlier years. And two, we really were going to miss the guys who'd been parading through our house carrying drywall, pipes, pieces of cabinets and lots of plumbing paraphernalia over the past two months.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As a preface to my tale of the Great Bathroom Project, I'd like to make a few facts clear.

My husband and I have some wonderfully accomplished friends who can wield nail guns and fling drywall around with the best of the pros. They have masses of tools and tons of confidence and think nothing of remodeling their own kitchens or buying rundown houses and turning them into showcases. We have other friends who, while they may not know crosscut saws from ratchet screwdrivers, are brave enough to throw themselves on the mercy of builders and trust them to build their dream houses. They think big.

We are not those people. And I suspect more folks are like us than like these mysteriously capable and confident pals of ours. I'm talking here to people like us.

Like you, we are utterly without useful skills. When my husband was just beginning high school, his father bought a 1787 extended cape in rural - really rural - Maine. It had neither plumbing nor heat. What it had were perhaps 13 layers of crumbling wallpaper over horsehair plaster. And it had endless chicken coops, most of them loaded with chicken detritus no one should have to deal with.

Pressed into service to help bring the place into the 20th century, my husband has since foresworn any knowledge of even how a hammer works.

And I, despite my grandfather's having been an accomplished carpenter, never progressed beyond some fairly simple wallpapering and painting. I can handle a hammer only to pound in picture hooks.

Given our limits - and a natural aversion to spending a lot of money - we have over the years been like some shore creature that wanders the beach until it finds a cast-off shell of some other critter and says, 'Y'know, we could live here. It does have an ocean view!' In our case, we would look at a house, say, 'Oh, a pink stove. Well, we could paint that!' And we have moved in, painted the pink stove and been content.

And so it was with our current house, whose relatively minor flaws we cheerfully painted over or wallpapered. Except for one. The downstairs bathroom, the one we use.

I guess you'd call it the master bathroom, mainly because it is outside our downstairs bedroom. But it's by no means masterly. It's a small space, and it was loaded with stuff - tiles, tub, toilet, sink - that was an odd shade of green. Lettuce? Celery? (For wanna-be students of '60s-era decorating, all colors then had to be named after food - avocado, aubergine, cinnamon, chocolate, lemon, cherry. I think it was a law.)

It was a room that had clearly suffered a few problems over the years, leaks and such. And it suffered a few more under our watch. In fact, if there were a triage field hospital for bathrooms, this one would have been left outside the medical tent.

We had to do something. And, finally, we did. So began the Great Bathroom Project.

We got recommendations from trusted friends. And we were guided to a contractor and a designer who, in turn, brought any number of skilled craftsmen into our lives.

We were reminded, as we so often have been over the years, that the Concord area is blessed with an abundance of capable and downright creative skilled workers. And they're nice, too! Even if a lot of them do arrive way too early in the morning for some of us. Others lived by an inner clock known only to them. And from time to time, emergencies interrupted the best-planned schedule (Oh, your wife had twins? Prematurely? That's great! See you in a few days.).

As work progressed, we learned a few truths about living through a remodel. I note them for others reluctant to wade into scary home-improvement waters.

First, double any estimates of the length of time a project will take, and expect the unexpected, including twins. That's just the way it is.

Second, communications will break down. There are contractors and subcontractors and suppliers, and sometimes a few of the balls they are constantly juggling fall. Delays will ensue. Live with it.

Third, at some point you will get angry at someone - the contractor, the designer, the various craftsmen, even the manufacturer who decided that it wasn't worth even making a particular sconce light until it had a substantial number of orders. (Thank you, Progress Lighting!) That will blow over. You will realize, when the sawdust settles, that these are great people and you love 'em for the way they've improved your life. (Except maybe for Progress Lighting. Unless that blasted sconce light arrives soon.)

Fourth, there will be traffic jams. As various workers' trucks stack up in the drive. Compounding the confusion here, we decided this would be a good time to have some unrelated plumbing and electrical work done. One day we had three plumbers, two electricians, the contractor, the town building inspector and a guy from the gas company all jostling for space. Just park your car out by the road and let the rest sort themselves out.

Fourth, just when you think it is over, you'll find out it isn't. Oops, there's a missing cabinet door knob! Why is that water on the floor in the basement? And that light has been on back order for two months?

Yes, you will miss the friendly and capable people who have paraded through the place for the last couple of months,. But take heart, at least some of them will be back.

Finally, remember: Any remodeling project will, when it's over, give you a terrific opportunity to buy new stuff. As soon as the water was flowing through the pipes and First Flush had been achieved, we hied ourselves to downtown's Little River Oriental Rugs. Its proprietors stock wonderfully colorful and folk-arty Tibetan rugs, and we picked two small ones for our lovely new room. They are perfect, and their colors will go with a wide range of accessories.

The work is (nearly) over. Now the fun time starts. Bring on the towels! None, mind you, in celery or lettuce green.


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