The Renovator

 

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.

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There are 18 comments.

  1. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    What a fun and wonderful post! Thank you.

    • #1
    • January 12, 2019, at 3:43 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  2. Kevin Schulte Member

    • #2
    • January 12, 2019, at 4:02 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. OldDanRhody Member

    Stubbs: A sole proprietor has no where 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

    Oh yes. Even if nobody else can see it, you know it’s there.

    Great post.

    • #3
    • January 12, 2019, at 4:07 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. KentForrester Coolidge

    Great post, Stubbs. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a better description of a job and a skill.

    When I was younger, I used to wonder why a person would choose to do manual labor outdoors rather than sit at a desk indoors, cooled by air conditioning in the summer, heated in the winter. Now I understand. 

    Thanks for your post. That’s a fine piece of writing.

    • #4
    • January 12, 2019, at 4:13 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  5. Randy Webster Member

    I spent 25 years as a carpenter/superintendent, mostly building restaurants. I really liked it.

    And when I was framing houses, there was nothing like the smell of fresh sawn SPF and pine.

    • #5
    • January 12, 2019, at 4:33 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. JustmeinAZ Member

    We watched our house being built over a 4 month period and it was like magic to me. How did they know where to run the plumbing and electrical I wondered? My work was sitting at a desk and staring at spreadsheets. Building houses is hard!

    • #6
    • January 12, 2019, at 5:32 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. PHCheese Member

    Congrats.Being your own boss is like nothing else. It is hard to explain to people. In my opinion it takes four factors , courage, perseverance, generosity and knowledge. Generosity may need some explanation. As a businessman you can’t keep it all for yourself. You need to let your suppliers and your customer and your employees live. Most people who have never run their own business don’t understand how scary it can be. Courage is a everyday necessity and your perseverance is tested often. Knowledge can be acquired many ways the least desirable at the school of hard knocks. Oh and I forgot luck. However I found the harder I worked the luckier I got.

    • #7
    • January 12, 2019, at 6:09 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  8. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Great post! Building is noble, indeed. May you be blessed with every success. 

    • #8
    • January 12, 2019, at 8:27 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. tigerlily Member

     What a lovely post Stubbs! Here’s wishing continued growth and success for you and your business.

    • #9
    • January 12, 2019, at 10:39 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    A wonderful meditation on the joys of building construction and renovation.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under January’s theme: Renovation. There are plenty of dates still available. Have a great home renovation story? Maybe with photos? Have a terrible home renovation story? How about furniture, or an instrument, a plane, a train or an automobile? Are you your renovation project, or someone else’s? Do you have criticism or praise for some public renovation, accomplished or desperately needed? Are you a big fan, or not so much, of home renovation shows? Unleash your inner fan or critic. We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story with before and after photos, or reflections on the current state of a long project. The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet await.

    • #10
    • January 12, 2019, at 11:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Judge Mental Member

    As a very different kind of contractor, I liked this very much.

    • #11
    • January 12, 2019, at 11:45 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. Randy Webster Member

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    We watched our house being built over a 4 month period and it was like magic to me. How did they know where to run the plumbing and electrical I wondered? My work was sitting at a desk and staring at spreadsheets. Building houses is hard!

    Actually, it’s not. Building houses is easy and fun. Sometimes it’s physically demanding, but it’s not difficult.

    • #12
    • January 13, 2019, at 1:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Randy Webster Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Great post, Stubbs. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a better description of a job and a skill.

    When I was younger, I used to wonder why a person would choose to do manual labor outdoors rather than sit at a desk indoors, cooled by air conditioning in the summer, heated in the winter. Now I understand.

    Thanks for your post. That’s a fine piece of writing.

    We do our kids a disservice by steering them away from jobs requiring manual labor.

    • #13
    • January 13, 2019, at 1:18 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    Oh and I forgot luck. However I found the harder I worked the luckier I got.

    Cheese, this is great. My husband runs our own business too, and this is so true.

    • #14
    • January 13, 2019, at 1:59 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Stubbs Member
    Stubbs Post author

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I spent 25 years as a carpenter/superintendent, mostly building restaurants. I really liked it.

    And when I was framing houses, there was nothing like the smell of fresh sawn SPF and pine.

    I was trying to fit something in about going home with pitch stains on your hands and arms too… definitely part of the experience.

    • #15
    • January 13, 2019, at 7:21 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Stubbs Member
    Stubbs Post author

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    We watched our house being built over a 4 month period and it was like magic to me. How did they know where to run the plumbing and electrical I wondered? My work was sitting at a desk and staring at spreadsheets. Building houses is hard!

    Actually, it’s not. Building houses is easy and fun. Sometimes it’s physically demanding, but it’s not difficult.

    I’d have to agree. Framing is usually a 8-9 hour a day job with few after hours headaches. After a few days of acclimation, it’s a great job; it keeps you in good physical condition, it’s incredibly rewarding, and you get to play with some pretty cool tools. Construction management on the other hand… is hard.

    • #16
    • January 13, 2019, at 7:24 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Stubbs Member
    Stubbs Post author

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    Oh and I forgot luck. However I found the harder I worked the luckier I got.

    Cheese, this is great. My husband runs our own business too, and this is so true.

    I think one of the self help gurus says luck is preparation meeting opportunity. I always liked that definition. The way you put it rings truest to me though. If you want to be lucky, start working hard.

    • #17
    • January 13, 2019, at 7:27 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Randy Webster Member

    Stubbs (View Comment):
    Construction management on the other hand… is hard.

    It’s why I’m an estimator rather than a project manager. Every time I hear the PM’s on the phone arguing with a GC, I thank my lucky stars.

    • #18
    • January 13, 2019, at 9:16 AM PDT
    • 2 likes