This is our real-life rundown of what (in the world) is going on at the Two Flat – from flooding to floor refinishing (again) and why. But first, a note to say that we understand the immense privilege we’ve been given to renovate homes for a living and know that there are issues in the world much larger than our delayed home renovations.
We struggled with whether or not one of us should write this post. Not because we think that hiding away the ‘bad stuff’ is the right answer, but because we do our very best to look forward during a renovation. Dwelling on the frustrations and setbacks has only proven to cause new gray hairs and to chew away at our mental health, which, No, thank you! We’ve been there, done that, and we have come so far in the last year of breathing new life into our Two Flat!
Is Your House Cursed?
However, the Two Flat has thrown us many challenges, so much so that our friends have jokingly asked, But seriously, was there a curse put upon this house? (To which I would laugh if I hadn’t wondered the same thing myself!) I’ve cried over this house. I’ve laid awake at night wondering what we’re going to do. We’ve asked each other if we will keep this house at all – a realization that slowly crept up on us until it became all-consuming. With each hearty helping of stress, we try to remind each other that this is all temporary. The renovation. The pandemic. The issues, one right after the other. When one of us is down, we pep the other up. And when we need a personal day, for the love of Pete, we take that personal day!
What Is Going On?
But I digress. Today I’d like to have a heart to heart with you about the Two Flat. As in, what (in the world!) is going on there?! As we all experience setbacks (in life, relationships, DIY projects!), I think we find community in knowing that down days or weeks or months is a part of the process. And while we’re eager to share and celebrate the ‘ups’, it’s worth noting that the ‘downs’ are a part of this process. No one is immune. You have been so kind and encouraging as we share progress in our Stories, and I want you to know: We appreciate you.
It Takes Two (Baby)
Oh, Two Flat. Several larger projects have had to be completed twice, a result of either 1) damage from a rotating crew of contractors or 2) acts of God. The latter came into play when we noticed a lot of soggy drywall and room-width puddles(!) in the finished den / basement after a night of hard rain. That sinking feeling of seeing rainwater in your home was one we wanted to avoid at all costs. Here’s what we did:
- After several assessments from the pros, we opted to install a drain tile system, which would ensure that our home was 100% rainproof. This is far from inexpensive, but it was the right decision for the health of the Two Flat.
- The drain tile system involved digging up a 1-2′ section of concrete flooring, 2′ of drywall, and wall studs around the perimeter of the entire den / basement.
- New concrete was laid, which our concrete refinisher came back to refinish – again.
- New wall studs and drywall were installed, patched and primed – again.
- Doors that had swelled from the moisture were repaired and installed – again.
From start to finish, this set us back a couple of weeks, both with time and financially. But we refused to let that flood bring us down, after all, we had plenty of exterior updates and an IKEA kitchenette to keep us busy! The kitchenette is what we’re calling the mini kitchen in our den, with an equally mini fridge, sink and work station. Things went well until it came time to install the countertop, at which point… well. We have had the kitchenette measured twice, and we have had two attempts at install – but both times, our slab was cut wrong. To this point, it’s still unresolved. We keep telling ourselves: It’s okay! We have plenty of other things to focus on! Do you notice a trend?
The Trade That Almost Broke Us
Meanwhile, we hired a painting crew to paint the entirety of our interior (with the exception of the dining room) – walls, ceilings, doors and millwork. We gathered several quotes, and after getting a full picture view of what we could expect, we hired a team that we’ve worked with previously with great success (for clarity, this is not the same crew that painted our exterior). It’s a national paint service that subcontracts pros around the country, and we were paired with a team that assured us they would take care of our old home.
Foreshadowing: That didn’t happen. Although the job was estimated at 2 weeks, this crew finished in 1! We were spending the weekend at Tree House when we received the call that the crew was finishing up, and so we excitedly headed back to the Two Flat the next day. The following is a very condensed timeline of what happened:
- June 15 | Painting begins!
- June 16-18 | We visit the site to have walkthroughs with the crew, and point out areas that are thin, drippy, etc. The crew agrees and marks the areas to tape, promising they’ll touch it up.
- June 22-23 | Painting crew cleans up and tells us the job is complete!
- June 24 | We return to find discarded tape and trash, full cans of paint left open, paint on the windows and brand new door hardware hinges, and unopened boxes of our things splashed with paint. There was rust (from washed putty knives) on our new stone window sills and paint spray on the floors and walls of our newly tiled pink bathroom. We were in shock and spent 2 hours cleaning up their debris.
Although unfortunate, I don’t want to dwell too much on the condition of how our home was left, rather, the quality of the paint job. Although we had already walked through the home with the painting crew during the job itself, the problem areas persisted. Everything you can imagine to go wrong, went wrong: Drips. Thin spots. (We suspect that many areas of the home were only painted with one coat.) Bare spots. Gloopy caulk. Clumped, streaky and outside-of-the-lines paint. Our new drywall and millwork looked as old as the home itself, and not in a charming way. Our hearts sank – I felt physically ill! – but we called our assigned project manager with the paint company to explain the situation. As a first step, he sent the lead from the team back to assess the damages. Upon entering the Two Flat, the lead said to us: Let’s be honest, your home wasn’t in good shape before we started.
Mediation vs. Preservation
With the paint service company acting as the mediator, we all – the paint service, us, and the subcontracted paint lead – hopped on a phone call. We agreed that the lead would take a few days to address the problems. But afterwards, we returned to find…
- … our door hinges were scratched and discolored from harsh chemicals and scouring pads. Some paint was unable to be removed at all without additional damage.
- … new door hardware had developed a foggy finish.
- … our refinished hardwood floors were scrubbed to the point that the finish had been worn away completely.
- … our toilet seat had been scoured, leaving it rough to the touch. (What!)
- … there were still drips, uneven lines, gloopy caulk and patchy paint on all the walls.
It was at this point that the paint service stopped mediating, and instead, they went into preservation mode. Days would go by without returned calls, a week without a returned email. The job was still very much unfinished, and now we would also need our hardwood floors to be completely refinished again. More or less, the paint job needed to be wiped away and started anew. Here’s what happened next:
- end of June / start of July | We called and emailed our rep at the paint service and requested a different team to finish our job. We sent them photos of everything, thinking to ourselves, Surely they will agree that this is not well done! (Spoiler: They didn’t.)
- mid July | The first paint crew had us talk to an insurance adjuster for the floor damages, and the adjuster calls our floor refinisher to triple check the damage. The paint service sends out another crew to see if it’s as ‘bad as we say.’ They also let us know that if the paint looks good from 3′ away, that’s the best we can hope for (what!), and they requested more pulled-back photos. We gladly obliged, to which they never provided a response.
- mid-end July | We walked through the home with the new paint crew, and the lead agreed that almost everything would need to be sanded down, re-caulked and re-painted.
- end of July | The new painters take an additional week to restart the job, and they did everything they possibly could to smooth out the walls and millwork, repair the damaged hinges, and remove the paint on our windows, but some of the damage was irreparable. Meanwhile, the paint service charges our credit card for the remaining balance, and they provide us a $250 discount for the inconvenience.
It’s at this point that the original painter’s insurance came through for our floor refinishers to come back in and buff out the problems as well as they could. Again, some areas were beyond repair, such as (suspected) paint thinner stains soaked into the hardwood. They were also unable to use the same matte finish that was applied the first time around, because it wouldn’t be able to hold up to the paint thinner that was soaked into the wood. Instead, we received a satin finish which is quite lovely, although not what we originally designed.
We Needed To Take a Step Back
For almost 2 months this summer, time stopped at the Two Flat. The paint service company wouldn’t allow us to bring other trades on site during the work (going so far as to call the second team of painters to make sure we were following their instructions), causing us to halt on every. other. project. They were in preservation mode, remember? We couldn’t bring anything to the house, because we had to keep the floors cleared for refinishing. Our kitchen shipment, appliances and anything large was held in our garage, in the basement or in our home. The tiller we needed for lawn work was hidden in the yard, but promptly stolen. All the while, I couldn’t shake the echo of the original paint lead telling us, … your home wasn’t in good shape, and I would pause for a deep breath and remind myself (again and again): Everything will be okay.
The paint service never once offered an apology, instead insisting that our expectations were too high. Ironically, this is a company we had worked with in the past, and we hired them specifically because of our wonderful past experience with them. This couldn’t have felt more different. This process was draining and time consuming and nearly jeopardized several of our working relationships due to hold-ups and delayed deadlines. We felt angry, but mostly sad. We took a step back, allowed ourselves to feel these feelings, and then we began the journey of looking forward once again.
Here’s the Thing
We share all of this because I can almost guarantee that so many of you are reading this and nodding your head emphatically, thinking, yup, been there! Our experience, setbacks, unexpected costs and mounting frustrations are not unique. Yes, I’ve just written thousands of words about a paint job gone (very, very) wrong. Paint. Paint! What do I always say? It’s just paint! And beneath it all, we don’t take lightly this immense privilege of being able to renovate a home. We’re mentally and physically drained, our hearts ache for the trauma our country is experiencing, and these are feelings that can’t – that shouldn’t – be ignored.
It’s Okay to Pivot
All this to say, we don’t know what the future of the Two Flat holds. Our initial plan was to rent Unit 2 as a yearly lease, and Unit 1 would be our fully furnished short-term rental (think: Airbnb style). As we make bolder decisions in Unit 1, we cross our fingers that our vision will unfold as originally planned, but we are also reminding ourselves that it is okay to pivot. There is a bit of a mental back-and-forth, in which we can’t wait to furnish every nook and cranny of Unit 1, and then there’s the other part of us that thinks: But what if we change our mind?
Many of us are feeling these feelings, aren’t we? We’ve all felt the heaviness of this year on our shoulders, and it’s hard. I hugged a friend of mine last night, the first physical contact I’ve had with someone other than Scott and Lucy since early March. It was wonderful, I didn’t want to let go, and it reminded me that everything will be okay. No matter what ‘everything’ is.
Giving you all a good virtual squeeze, today and every day! xx