It is my intention to share a story about a renovation project that in the end became the most beautiful and valuable renovation project I have ever undertaken. The story I would like to share is about a not so typical renovation project. It is a story of a personal transformation or transmutation if you prefer from the man I was conditioned to be to the man I was meant to be.
The majority of my life I have spent being a carpenter. Other than building things from scratch most of the work a carpenter does is in the form of restoring things or renovating things. Such as homes for example, updating them and making them more modern to better serve the needs of the people that occupy or will occupy them. Sometimes a whole house needs to be redone for a number of reasons such as outdated wiring, plumbing, tile or other visual elements that are broken missing or just plain ugly by today’s standards. Often we look at the interior and decide that the walled off separation of the interior makes the space appear small and cramped. The lack of openness and a bright airy space can give a feeling of dark and musty to an environment.
I have extensive experience in the craft and trade being a carpenter for twenty five years most of those working in New York City. My projects as a Union Carpenter were varied and quite diverse especially in regards to the buildings the work was done in. The oldest structure I was given the honor to work on was also one of my favorite to have worked on. That would be West Point a piece of American History built during the American Revolution it opened in January 1778 as a fort with the intention of stopping the British Navy from advancing up the Hudson River. Today it is the U.S. Military Academy the fort itself is now the cadets dining hall. The materials used in the renovation were restored for the most part; new materials were incorporated in the renovation to bring the old fort up to code safety wise. The newest structures I worked on renovation wise were being renovated primarily just to adjust space to accommodate the needs of a particular business.
The renovation that I take the most pride in however was the most beautiful and valuable it was also one that did not require any physical building materials. It was for me the most challenging and longest renovation I have to date undertaken. The exterior was in good shape needing just a little work yet the interior was in need of a major overhaul. It was in such a state I didn’t know where to begin at first. I couldn’t even see the true condition as so many walls had been built. The foundation was the first place surveyed and although it looked stable it was crumbling from the weight of all the added weight and from the sub standard materials it was built with. The wiring was of a time when it was really just wire with the barest of insulation. It was from the days of old when you just used the minimum to make it work. The fires from that old wiring inspired better materials and protection methods to be created for those ever so important wires. The fixtures and windows were old and outdated as were the cabinets all from another time even as old as a few centuries although they served the purpose they were worn and ready to be replaced.
Funny now looking back I wonder how I ever lived with things the way they were, I know that through time many of those I loved didn’t accept the way they were. I suppose that was the inspiration for the renovation in the first place. I had no idea what I was walking into as I made the choice to renovate. It was a difficult choice to make, many of my friends and associates questioned why? As did some of my family members, those that mattered most to me, my children would be the best example and they helped make the choice to do so easier. It was in a way that my children were the eye opener showing me the ugly interior and the walls that had been built. My interactions with them revealing those walls that were closing off the open space, blocking the light in turn creating that dark musty environment. I am not a fan of dark and musty, I like open bright and airy spaces like those found in nature.
I guess it would be fair at this point to share a little about what I saw when I opened my eyes. I can’t share that without sharing what made me open them…
No not in a physical sense more in a metaphorical sense. One of the downsides of being a great carpenter is the amount of time that is expected by your employers and customers to be spent taking care of their projects and needs. I used the word” fire” as that was what” happened” in part due the wiring that was so old in my structure. That part of the wiring was actually from my youth taught to me by my father, grandpa, many men around me and most deeply by my step dad through their examples. They would work six or seven days a week, ten twelve hours a day to make enough money to just get by and put food on the table. In my heart of hearts as a man thought that was what it meant to love your family. Work hard and make the money, the more work the more money, the more love you were giving. I wanted to give my family more and make sure my children as well as my former wife had all the material things they could want and the things I as a child never had or had seen my mother or grandmother ever have. I worked and worked, not knowing each time I missed dinner, each time I missed a school project, a family function the wiring was heating up and after so many years sparks were beginning to fly and smoke began to appear through the cracks in the floor and walls.