I was not one born to the hammer as most General Contractors who specialize in residential renovations are. Instead, as the son of an office jockey, I was plenty happy to spend my days playing sports and riding bikes rather than building tree houses and forts, or earning a few bucks an hour picking up trash on a job site, as most of my peers did in their youth.
What first drew me to building was the income; it was the best summer job a college freshman could wrangle. But it was the sweat and the sawdust that captured me. The tangy smell of wet pine surrendering to the screaming saw and the hot, dusty scent of summer mingled with the pop of nail guns, loud country music, sunscreen, and sweat. This, it seemed to me, is what work should feel like. Maybe I was tired, maybe I was sore, but the cold beer in my hand was well earned and delicious, and there, where once there was just dirt and scrub, sat a freshly framed house.
What drew me back to building was the mental challenge of leadership and team management. The orchestra of a well-run job site is a thing of beauty. Five thousand square feet of home, humming under the saws, drills, and tape measures of fifteen men of six different trades; skillfully layered around each other, so’s not to disturb the work of the others, while still maximizing the expediency of the larger project schedule. Not only is it a dance of efficiency and craftsmanship, but it is a dance of dependence; a network of specialists united under the banner of a larger goal, coordinated in step to allow for each others’ strengths and weaknesses, each in their proper time, by the hand of me -the conductor.
The third and final time I returned to building it was for independence. Tired of carrying the burdens and successes of others, tired of bumping against the ceiling of small, family-run companies, I acquired my own license and set about the long slow work of building my own business. My first projects were deeply humbling; I earned pennies as I replaced toilets and rotting fascia boards and built small cabinets. But on this go, when I saw a problem, I knew exactly who was responsible, and I knew that if I was courageous enough, I could do the difficult work of fixing it. A sole proprietor has nowhere to hide, and the most difficult dance of all of my work history began in this chapter. Even today, as each consequence of my own fear and laziness raises its ugly head, revealed by the fires of self-employment, I must choose to ignore it and let a monster grow in the festering prison of willful blindness, or confront it head-on, and encourage my soul by defeating it. My record is far from perfect, and the failures are deeply personal and painful, but the successes engender a deep, soul-nourishing sense of meaning that follows in the vein of faith, marriage, and child-rearing.
Now I am discovering a new pleasure in my craft; the renovation. Most of my work these days comes in the form of remodels and small additions. There is an artistic joy that comes from the creative process of transforming an aging, clunky house, into a practical and beautiful home. My personal favorites are the homes that were built with an obvious eye for detail and beauty, whose bones have been covered up by years of neglect, bad ideas, and poor taste. Then I am fortunate enough to be hired to peel back layers of callus and decay to reveal a substrate of venerable beauty, and then build upon that foundation to bring a wholly new state of form and function, while making sure it still bears the hallmarks of its original glory.
I’m still young, with only four years of business on my own and many unread volumes of experience still resting, dusty on my shelf. Yet even in my ignorance, I still feel I can count on my chosen career to keep finding new ways to bring me challenge and delight.