Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Six-Thousand-Dollar Question

Lately, I feel Abby and I have not exactly been celebrating the time we've been having with the bungalow.  Sure, we've run long, and we're living in the basement with our kids.  But you know, it's a huge project, and running three or four months over isn't exactly the most uncommon thing in the world.  Looking back, maybe we had an unrealistic expectation of things going well.  Maybe we were fooling ourselves that, having hired a general contractor this time around, all the projects would just fall into place, and the giant Rube Goldberg Device that is our bungalow construction project would make that little bird tip over and drink out of the cup exactly when we had planned.  But you know what?  We put ourselves in that situation.  We were the ones who said our renters could move into the house in October, we were the ones who trusted things to get done while we spent a month in London, or two weeks in Florida, or various weekends here or there, or every day not on the job site.  Heck, we were the ones who bought a house that hadn't been lived in since the Reagan Administration.

All that can be seen as our fault, although no, I'm not saying all of it was.  But it was stuff we could have been more realistic about.  However, there is a whole other echelon of stuff that just isn't happening the way we wanted it to happen.  If you're even a casual reader of this blog, you'll be able to enumerate these things on your fingers: the toilets, the bathroom door, the kitchen ceiling, the ductwork, the radiators, the water connection, the bollards.  And, of course, my shower.  Just this week, we've had to deal with the contractor telling us we couldn't have the stain color we wanted on the porch floor, and I'm sure we've got fights ahead for the exterior of the house when it comes to landscaping and the big ol' American flag on a pole I've always wanted for my house in my head.

So when we once again were faced with two different projects that we felt had defeated us once again this week, it was time to take a stand.  No.  This is our house.  We are paying a half a million dollars for this frickin' place, and I want a gosh darned granite countertop.  Or rather, I want my wife to have the gosh darned granite countertop she had decided on months ago.  And I want to treat myself to a closet that isn't going to crack and bow and warp and turn yellow after six months.  If I can't luxuriate in my hotel-quality shower, why the heck can't I go back to my hotel-quality bedroom, dag nabbit?  Let me explain.

We've ordered the kitchen cabinets through Home Depot, and we were shopping elsewhere for the countertop, since Abby didn't see anything she liked there.  You may remember we spent Columbus Day (THREE MONTHS AGO) verifying that I did indeed like the Virginia Mist matte countertop way the heck up in Jessup, Maryland.  Well, Abby was finalizing cabinet plans and mentioned this fact to John at Home Depot.  He said, well, we carry that too; would you like us to price it for you?  Excellent.  Only once the price came back, it was more than $9,000.  Yes, you read that correctly: nine thousand dollars for a countertop.  Now, I have only purchased one countertop in my life, and it was a wood-slab countertop from IKEA that we have had in our kitchen here since we renovated back in 2004.  I like it a lot.  But we can't have a wood countertop at the bungalow, because we have wood floors in the kitchen.  So I put Abby in charge of searching for materials.  First she wanted concrete, because it was supposedly really cool looking and fit her plan perfectly; after a bit of study, however, she found out that it discolored and scratched or something much more easily than other materials.  Of course things like corian and laminate are out of the question, so we're really only left with materials priced mid-range and higher.  Granted, we are going to have a very, very long countertop; we need nearly sixty square feet of the stuff.  We went to IKEA this weekend with my parents and looked at their stuff.  There are some perfectly nice countertops there-- in fact, the granite they have, which is their most expensive stuff, is actually not nice at all.  We liked this stuff called Caesarstone, and it came in "Raven," which is basically a rich, dark gray.  This really was fine, Abby assured me; she did like it, and $9,000 is a lot for countertops.  The Raven would cost us $6,500.

The real reason we had gone to IKEA (apart from meeting my parents for the afternoon and partaking of the ir awesome meatballs and cheesy mac) was to look at closet doors.  Not your average closet doors, mind you, but the IKEA PAX armoire.  (Sorry for the ALLCAPS on this, but that's what it's called.)  You see, on Friday night we had someone from Closet America come to the house to design our bedroom closet.  It's an extravagance, I know, but it's such a small space, and I wanted to see if there was anything they could do to it.  They came up with some really interesting ideas I wouldn't have thought of before, then showed us the product.  Their stuff is guaranteed for as long as you own the home-- anything goes wrong, and they'll fix it for free, forever-- as well as for the people who own your home after you.  It's furniture, just attached to your walls, and it is really, really nice.  It's like a nice hotel.  It's what I wanted in my bathroom, but probably won't get.  My boss from my previous job has a huge California Closets closet that I remember drooling over years ago at a cocktail party; why can't I have one too?  Only problem is the price.  Sure, I talked the guy down about 35%, but at the end of the day it's going to cost me $3,000.  For a closet.  I looked up the do-it-yourself closets-- the Martha Stewart ones, EasyCloset.com, Elfa at Container Store-- all of which come highly touted by friends and random reviewers on the interwebs.  We found that IKEA PAX seemed like the best bet, and had three business days to rescind our contract with Closet America, so we headed Stockholm-in-Greenbelt.  Only problem was, we have low ceilings.  Sure, PAX comes in a 78-inch height that would fit just fine.  But only with swing-out doors, which would not.  If we wanted sliding doors, we would need the 96-inch PAX, and our ceilings are only 90 inches in the bedroom.  (No jokes, please, about being several inches short of ideal in the bedroom, okay folks?) ;)  PAX was out.  But honestly, we had Closet America plan the configuration; we could mimic it with EasyCloset.com for about $1300, and could probably do it a bit more upmarket with Container Store for a couple hundred more.  Honestly, it was fine; after all, it's only a closet.

So here we stood: second-choice in countertop, second-choice in closets.  Everything was fine.  But I felt cheated.  I keep going back to that mantra: "I'm spending half a million dollars on this."  Why the heck can't I have my closet?  Why the heck can't Abby have her countertop?  I posed this question to her: A countertop is a countertop to me, but I understand it might not be to you or to others.  If we get the Raven, will it be just fine, or will people notice it above everything else we did, point to it, and whisper how we cut corners?  If we get the Virginia Mist, will it be what people expect of a kitchen renovation in 2013 (2013!), or will they point to it and whisper that, damn!, Gregory and Abby actually got a really nice countertop, despite how notoriously Scroogelike we all know he is?  No answer.  I knew the answer.  For less than $3,000, we can get a really nice countertop that Abby will love, that will make our kitchen look great, and will not be yet one more second choice for the house.  Similarly, for $3,000 more, we can get an awesome closet that we will literally never have to replace as long as we own the house, that will give me that little bit of luxury I was attempting to capture elsewhere.  Abby warns me that if we have a nice closet she'll want nice closet doors, but I don't care.  After all, "I'm spending half a million dollars on this house," right?

So as we head to the midpoint of the 19th month of homeownership, our 7th week of living in a basement, and the umpteenth already-finalized decision we have to revisit because our first choice just didn't pan out, at least we each get our own little luxuries this time around.  It may be the only ones we get, but at least we didn't give in to the monster that is this process, and I think that's worth celebrating.

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