Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Which DIY'ers Attempt to Contract

Wally and I are very hands-on when it comes to home improvements. Not knowledgeable, but willing to learn. Not wealthy, but able to budget. And enabled by Google, Youtube, family with tools to borrow, and "This Old House" reruns, we have the most important DIY trait of all: the audacity to believe we really can do anything.

One of my favorite past times is making updates and improvements using only materials we have on hand or can get for free. Closet organization, kid-size benches, and several outdoor play areas spring up out of random, re-purposed stuff around the house.

Plus, our lower-middle-class neighborhood has constant garage sales and great trash piles. I once pieced together a full swing set from a neighbor's trash pile and had my preschoolers help me drag it in pieces 50 yards down the sidewalk to reassemble in our garage.
With a 2-year-old, 4-year-old, and twins on the way, we considered outsourcing some of our home improvement projects, so we weren't caught in the middle of an eight-month bathroom renovation, working sleep-deprived with power tools.We did the math of bank account versus time saved versus personal skill sets, and brought in professionals to trim trees, build a fence, and replace our 14-year-old hot water heater.

We tried to contract our backyard deck replacement through Lowe's and Home Depot's advertised services, but we're not sure the associates who were supposed to call us back actually even exist. After a couple weeks of one-sided phone tag and no-show store appointments, we read the signs from the universe and overhauled the deck ourselves, squeezing in extra projects of a vegetable garden, gutter install, grill table, and cat perch along the way. 

We tried to contract out a little kitchen upgrade too, after my failed cabinet refinishing. (In my defense, you can only strip so many layers of paint off construction grade wood paneling. Still, the interim effect is less than pretty.) 

The lady who came out from Kitchen Concepts was very nice, moved efficiently through our galley kitchen, measuring windows, counters, and doors, and asking how we would describe our style.

"Ummm... clean? bright?" I felt like breaking into a kitchen musical rendition of Edelweiss. "Something not... ugly."

We've based most of our DIY design decisions on available resources, or the clearance room in Ikea's "As-Is" section. We weren't sure what to do with an open palate of options. 

Luckily, as it turns out, our kitchen design style doesn't matter after all. Once we got to the end of the meeting and we shared our available budget, the designer paused.

We thought the budget was pretty generous. We had doubled the cost of cabinets and counters at market price, to allow for labor, and decided against any kind of demolition, heavy construction, or new appliances.

The nice lady smiled, scheduled a follow-up meeting for 2 weeks later at their store, and left quickly. 

We arrived at the meeting, expecting to select stain colors for our cabinets, tiles for a back splash, and surfaces for counters, but were ushered into a small conference area instead. 

"Well," the owner said hesitantly -- her designer nowhere in sight. "With your budget, you can have this particle board cabinet, in this color, with this counter. And we had to go over your budget to put this together. But look - a corner cabinet with lazy Susan shelves!"

At this point, the designer poked her head in: "Oh no, we couldn't do the lazy Susan. It's just a regular corner cabinet."

I think our heads exploded, as we tried to calculate where all the money went. Maybe this wasn't a kitchen renovation store at all. I looked around at the European contemporary design, no other customers in sight. Come to think of it, had we ever seen cars in the parking lot? Was it all a front, funneling money to a Swedish mob? 

I felt like we should leave quickly, before they figured out we were on to them and found ourselves buried in fresh concrete at the back of an industrial strip center in Addison, Texas. 

We smiled, pointed to my growing belly, mumbled something about waiting till after the babies were born, and made it to safely to our car. And then laughed all the way home.  

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