29 January 2008

Budget jobs

Everybody has a budget for a project. It may be $20,000 or it may be $150,000, but in the end there is a limit to how much someone wants to spend. Believe it or not, fitting into a high-budget budget can involve more squeezing than fitting into a lower-priced job. Folks at the higher end of the market tend to have higher expectations and much longer wish lists.

I'm thinking about budgets because I have a meeting tomorrow morning with a very nice couple and their builder. The Very Nice Couple are in their mid-thirties and they have four kids, and I think the oldest is about 12.

These fine folks aren't wealthy, but they seem to be doing on the better side of OK. They seem pretty typical of most of the people who populate the endless suburbs. They are truly interesting and their children are their number one priority. Mom and Dad's vanity is not why we're having this meeting tomorrow morning. Rather, they live in a typical Florida block ranch house with its also typical tiny kitchen. They are out of room and they need to do something.

My job is to give this pretty cool young family a kitchen and a pantry that will make their lives easier, look great and not prevent the kiddies from going to college in a few years. Also typical for them and the house they live in, there are a bunch of mid-80s "innovations" that need to be undone, hence the presence of a contractor at tomorrow morning's meeting. They are buying their cabinetry and counters through me and I can control those costs somewhat, but I have to go easy on the construction demands I put on the contractor. I would love to remove the popcorn ceilings in the whole damn house, but that's just not in the cards. So we're going to move a doorway and remove a soffit that's hanging from the ceiling in the existing kitchen. We can't remove a bunch of interior walls, but we can get rid of one of them. Tearing down non-bearing walls in a ranch house can transform them.

It seems that back in the day, builders jammed a bunch of tiny rooms into these 1800 square foot wonders to make them appear to be larger. All those tiny rooms have the exact opposite effect though. So by breaking through one of two of the 20 I'd love to get rid of, we can give them the appearance of a bit more room.

The contractor will come in somewhere between nine and ten thousand dollars, I know that. He's going to cover the construction, painting, flooring, cabinetry installation and lighting. That's going to leave me with about the same amount for counters, cabinetry, a range and a fridge. Oh yeah, I have to get a microwave oven in here too. That is a tall order, but I'm remaining optimistic about it. We're just going to have to get creative and the homeowners are going to have to roll up their sleeves and take on some of the labor.

I've already started weed-whacking my cabinetry designs and I've taken out the obvious budget-busters like glass inserts in doors and cutlery dividers. Gone too are the ornate moldings that first brought them to me last June. We're using a builder-grade cabinet called Silverline from Medallion Cabinetry (www.medallioncabinetry.com). Another thing they won't budge on is their insistence on granite counters. Granite counters aren't the outrageously expensive luxury item they once were. But still, they will need a couple thousand dollars worth of granite for their job. The trade off for granite on the counters is cabinetry made from maple instead of the cherry we started with. Maple is a fine hardwood, but it costs more for a reason --it just looks better than maple does. Oh well. But there are some things I just can't get rid of. Four kids generate huge amounts of stuff and I have to find places to hide all of that stuff when it's not in use.

So after seven months of reevaluating needs and wants, we're just about where we need to be to actually start. Mercifully, The Nice Couple has stuck this out. They understood pretty early on that I was there to help them transform their home. I have been upfront with them all along about prices and comparative values, and they get it. I love working with people like this for a couple of months. I love it when we can get our interactions down to the point where they trust me enough to say, "Paul, we want to spend less than $2000 on a 36"-wide stainless steel refrigerator. Is that even possible?" I care about this job genuinely and when we say goodbye for the last time in a couple of months, they will be happy our paths crossed.

I'm looking forward to this job. A lot of times, I'm party to the construction of ego trips rendered in wood and drywall. So much of what I do seems like it doesn't matter very much in the long run. I talk about improving people's lives, but I wonder how much improving I do sometimes. In a case like this though, I have no doubt that the four kids who will be fed from this kitchen will be fed by a far less frustrated set of parents.

I'm not a sentimental man, especially when it comes to children. But the idea of those four kids doing homework on counter tops of my design warms my cold, cold heart.


  1. Thanks for spending so much time here last night Johnna, I appreciate it mightily!


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