We live on a block of several old Victorian houses. Typically we are a DIY couple, capable of small electric and modest plumbing repairs. But last spring we needed a new paint job, new porch railings, new gutters and new balcony spindles. We decided it was best for the house (and marriage) if we contracted this work out.
There’s a contractor named Frank who’s a regular fixture on our street. He’s a wizard at carpentry, plumbing and painting. His yard sign basically moves from one house to the next, as most old Victorians need work – lots of work. After many phone calls and much pestering, we finally worked our way up Frank’s list and he stopped over to give us a verbal estimate. He was competent, nice and just as talkative as everyone had said. Though his price was not the least expensive, we knew we wanted Frank, because as sure as our box gutters leak, there would be unforeseen problems.
In Italy, the houses are painted vibrant shades of orange, red and yellow. And it’s always been my dream to bring a little of the Tuscan countryside home. Yes, I wanted an orange house. So with the painter booked, I had two weeks to choose the right orange and accents. But orange can be a tricky color. Too yellowy and your house looks like a Popsicle, too red and it looks clownish. And believe it or not, paint samples aren’t free. Money was flowing down the drain fast, as I slapped sample after sample by the front door. Luckily, my neighbor Abby, a designer, came to my rescue. A couple of day-glow orange swatches out front can really rally those with taste and talent fast! She knocked on my door with her Sherwin-Williams color wheel already in hand. I showed her a picture of my Tuscan inspiration. She helped me match the orange, and found a wonderful amber, green, brown and red to match. The property value was saved.
Don’t Look Now
Sometimes you’re better off not knowing what goes into fixing an old house. As Frank started into the box gutters, he found that the whole south side of the house was rotting away from the leaks. “I don’t know how your walls are still standing,” he said. It was worse than we guessed. Water leaks inside are never a good sign. He gave us a fair estimate on replacing the siding and walls, and we agreed to the new total. The next morning on my way to work, I noticed that not only was the whole side torn off, but Frank’s helper was up to his knees ripping into the roof too. I just kept driving.
Frank’s a legend on the street because of his skill as a carpenter – and a talker. He talks all day with his team, and you have to set aside 30 minutes to ask him a question. Not a problem. His work’s that good. One day he complained, “My arms are tired from brushing back and forth.” And I wondered if his jaw was tired, too, from all the chitchat. But I didn’t dare ask. We needed Frank more than he needed us.
Who’s the Boss?
Though the colors were chosen, we still needed to decide what colors went where with all the trim. Frank disagreed with my choice to paint the window frames white. “Nobody likes the white,” he told me. Who these nobodies were wasn’t clear. But it sounded like the neighborhood might be gathering on the street every day to discuss progress while we were at work. Could be. “And I’m not doing it,” he concluded.
“Can he do that?” my husband asked later when I told him about the conversation.
I switched the trim to amber rather than find out. The no bodies were pleased.
If I Knew Picasso
The paint job was the single largest expense of our adult lives to date. Luckily, Frank let us pay him a little each week. We cut back on everything else. Everything. My favorite store Chico’s noticed the drought and sent coupon after coupon begging me to return. “Look,” I told my husband waving the coupon, “Chico’s misses me and wants me back.”
“Did you tell them you dumped them for Frank the painter?” he asked.
Ten weeks and several thousand dollars later, Clementine Cottage is done. The marriage survived, but the bank account is on life support.
Expert Mommy, Margee Moore