Janet Sheridan: Whose bright idea was this?

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Janet Sheridan

Our bumpy voyage began on a gray November morning when Joel, gazing at the ceiling, remarked, “I’ve never liked the lighting in this kitchen.”

That comment sparked a chain reaction: If we upgrade the lights, the cabinets will look bad. If we replace the cabinets, we should add more. If we add more, we’ll need a larger kitchen. If we enlarge the kitchen, we’ll have to cut back a wall. If we cut back a wall, we’ll have to replace some flooring. If we do all that, we’ll need more countertops. If we get new countertops, we’ll need matching paint. And on and on.

We established a budget, vowed we’d stay within it — unlike less disciplined folks — and forged ahead. We sketched out rough plans and collected samples and opinions like toddlers collect pebbles and twigs; soon employees pretended to be on the phone when we entered their businesses with twenty-five samples, thirty-two questions and rampant indecisiveness. But eventually, we made decisions and placed orders.

Our financial planning faltered.

Next, we waited for our cabinets to be delivered. And waited. And ran to the window whenever a large truck rumbled past. We waited six weeks: muttering, overeating, and becoming snappish — “Whose bright idea was this, anyway?” Then, on a blustery morning, a delivery truck turned into our driveway.

The chaos of the teardown began the next day: our contractor’s crew ripped out old cabinets, removed floor tile, cut back a wall, shored up the ceiling, dismantled the lights and poked holes for electrical lines.

Our cash flow dried up.

To avoid the turmoil, I hung out in the basement and tried to write; dust clogging my nostrils; plaster falling on my head; and alarming noises rattling my teeth. On nice days, Joel golfed, and I regretted my inability to whack small objects.

One morning as we fixed breakfast in our makeshift basement kitchen, Joel looked at the folding table holding crackers and condiments, the dishes stacked in the utility sink, the coffeemaker perched on the washer next to the microwave on the dryer, and commented that the poorly-lit scene reminded him of his first apartment. It was not a happy remark.

When we ventured into the construction zone, we had to fight our way through plastic sheets taped over the entrances to contain the dust of destruction—an effort as futile as trying to keep a turkey buzzard from circling. By the end of the first day, billows of fine dust had seeped into every nook and cranny of every floor.

When the trauma of teardown ended, the long, slow slog of rebuilding began. Each day, Joel and I arose with the sun so we would be awake, decently clothed, and reasonably alert when the festivities began: strong young men wandering in and out of our house willy-nilly, bashing things about, and asking us to make decisions as they encountered the quirks of our old home. When told about a problem — perhaps a wall stud that wouldn’t allow a light switch to be aligned with its companions — I began asking, “What do you think?” and nodding wisely in agreement to any response given.

Our savings dwindled dramatically.

Now the remodel is finished; and every morning, when I wander into our new kitchen — where Joel has switched on the lights that started it all — I take pleasure in its beauty and efficiency. I also appreciate the skill of those who built it, and find I miss the workers who shared our days, wonder how they’re doing and hope their businesses are booming.

If you’re thinking about turning your pantry into a dining room or creating an outdoor living space where the dog run used to be, I’d be happy to recommend our craftsmen to you.

But be warned: you’ll soon join the multitude of homeowners who exceeded their remodeling budgets; and Joel and I will be the first to welcome you.

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