Do You Have What It Takes?

If you saw last week’s column, you know that Leigh Ann and I have embarked on a “minor” kitchen remodeling.

Let me say this at the outset: a remodeling is like surgery. If you are the one under the knife, there is no such thing as “minor.” Take away your kitchen sink and you’re just one step away from sharing a cave with a family of bears.

Counting a couple of rental houses, this is my seventh kitchen remodeling, so I had a good idea what to expect. I knew enough, I figured, to once again serve as my own contractor. When people hear this, they typically give you the look they reserve for anyone who has just contracted some serious disease. Like leprosy or tuberculosis.

If you are about to undertake a remodeling project of your own, you, too, might wonder if you should serve as your own contractor. Before I give you the qualification test, I must say that there are incentives for taking on that role. First, your project won’t have to compete with four or five others for your attention. Second, you can save yourself as much as 20% of the cost of the project. Third, you can interview and select each of your sub-contractors. Finally, you won’t have someone else making small, but critical decisions in your absence.

But, however, being a contractor is a job and has to be treated as such. Contractors earn their money, so if you are going to be a contractor, you had better be ready to step up and handle each challenge, from kitchen cabinets arriving damaged to an electrician not arriving at all. Here are some key questions to ask yourself:

1.) Can you be at the job site at critical times? While that may sound easy, keep in mind that “critical times” are not always scheduled like department meetings. Sometimes they happen at 10:15am when the carpenters tear off some old paneling to find termite damage, electrical wires, or some other unexpected obstacle.

2.) Are you naturally organized? An efficient contractor makes lists, carries a notebook at all times, keeps phone numbers handy and, like a chess player, always thinks two moves ahead.

3.) Do you stay calm under pressure? Mistakes happen, but the test of someone’s character is how they handle their mistakes. The test of a contractor is how they handle the mistakes of others. If you can’t tolerate someone showing up twenty minutes late, or arriving only to announce he didn’t bring the right tool, then you might want to re-think the idea.

4.) Do you work well with people? I have had the same plumber here in Asheville since 1988. Philip and I have watched each other’s sons grow up, have wrestled hot water heaters together, and have lamented finding and keeping good employees — and good renters. I treat him with respect for what he does, and consider him a friend, not just a plumber. Want to have several like Philip on your team? Have donuts on hand, stock a cooler of ice cold drinks, buy lunch occasionally, help with clean-up, and ask about their family. Trust me: if you do, your Philip will drop everything when you have an emergency.

We are taking a break this week from washing dishes in the bathroom, so I am on my way to Yellowstone and another Arts and Crafts mecca: the Old Faithful Inn, originally furnished with Charles Limbert furniture. In 1912 it served as the inspiration for the design of the Great Hall at the Grove Park Inn, where we will be gathering for the 27th year this coming February.

Until next Monday,

“Get your Happiness out of your Work, or you will never know what Happiness is.”

– Elbert Hubbard