It’s a lifestyle choice that baffles our friends. Okay, some of them think we’re nuts. They’re all moving into condos, basking in the carefree joy of being able to turn the key and take off for as long as they please. Meanwhile, we’re starting yet another round of renovations on our lovely, high-maintenance old house. No matter how well it’s executed, it will be dusty, disruptive and stressful. The sheer volume of design decisions, from mega to minute, will obliterate any joy we might find in the process, especially with the knowledge that any mistakes will be costly and difficult to reverse.
The saving grace: we’re undertaking this with a team of Zoomers that has shepherded us through a renovation before. Claude, Harold and Peter did the work with care, calm and beautiful results. It took them seven months to transform the upper floors of our home just over a year ago. It’s hard to believe we’re ready to go through this again.
Claude, our architect, is 75. He never learned computer-assisted design, so every time there’s a revision he makes an entirely new drawing by hand. He is thoughtful, and his work is painstaking. He’s a lovely man who is very patient explaining things I can’t quite visualize and very good at talking us out of bad ideas – or anything he doesn’t like. (I couldn’t bear his disappointment when I told him I was partial to shiny, reflective glass tiles for the bathroom. We went matte and, a year later, I’m still thrilled with the results.) Claude is healthy and fit, but he suffers from macular degeneration, so he’s worried he may not be able to work much longer.
Harold, our contractor, is in his mid-50s. His work is a multi-generational affair. He’s in business with his father, Jack, who’s in his 80s, and his son, Rick, who is in his early 20s (and incredibly handsome). We had to move out of the house for about three months when they did the bedrooms and bathroom. We would come by and find Jack applying plaster to the wall, while Rick was mixing the material and watching carefully. Harold had also learned from his dad. And he seems to do all the trades beautifully, whether it’s laying a floor, tiling a wall or installing fixtures. When the work was done, Rick was the point man in trying to figure out all our new remotes and control pads. My only annoyance was that I repeatedly found Jack smoking, though I had told Harold not to allow it in the house. Finally, he sheepishly told me that his dad doesn’t listen to him and I should relay the message myself.
Peter is the carpenter, a true artisan whose millwork is gorgeous. But it takes time. He lost his assistant when he was doing our job, and there’s no replacement. I remember having a drink in the backyard to celebrate the project’s completion (two or three months behind schedule). We talked about getting older in the trades. “The quality of my work is as good as it ever was, if not better,” said Peter. “But, boy, it just takes so much longer now.” My husband and I exchanged glances. We held our tongues. There was no arguing with the finished product.
This time we’re doing the kitchen. I have to admit I hesitated about hiring Peter again. Beautiful as his work is, I don’t want to be without a kitchen for longer than a few weeks. The thing is Claude won’t work without Peter and Harold. So that’s that. And I like that.
This team of Zoomers understands that we need better lighting and more accessible shelves. I’m very fit, but my knees are bad, so I literally have to sit on the floor to retrieve the pots I need. We also need a new stove before the discontinued model we have finally gives out. I’m cooking more than ever, so it’s not a vanity project. The kitchen in this old house is freezing in the winter, so we’re also putting in a heated floor and some insulation.
We’ve been in our house for nearly 20 years. This is our fourth major renovation. We hope it will help us stay here for at least another 20. We love our high-maintenance old home. And our talented team of Zoomer renovators will help us grow older gracefully here in our place.