By Jim McCloskey
As I write this on May 10, we’re two weeks into a major renovation of our home of 30 years. Various demolition, foundation, framing, flooring, cabinet and roofing contractors will be redoing the kitchen from top to bottom while adding about 65 square feet to its space by bumping out a section of wall. Another crew will be changing out all but four of our 20 1960-vintage windows, and others will add 180 square feet (and a long-needed additional closet) to our tiny master bedroom.
It’s been a dusty, gritty mess so far, but demolition is now behind us, the new footings and foundations are ready for concrete and the electrical system, which has had a bright guy scratching his head in trying to decode how things were originally done and what has happened since, is slowly reconstituting itself. After another bunch of weeks, we’ll be into finishing details and back on track toward reclaiming the 60 percent of our living space Judy and I have surrendered to the cause.
I mention this because it gives me fresh insight into the disruptive nature of major residential construction projects. So far, our contractor has managed things well, keeping us engaged by asking for confirmation of details long agreed and giving us a sense that we are participating on some level while also enjoying the benefits of being in good, responsible hands.
I like to think that watershape designers and contractors are similarly diligent, caring and responsible: Nobody likes costly surprises – we’ve already run into one in the form of an unexpected beam placement from a 1970s kitchen expansion pursued by previous owners – but so far I’ve been impressed by the way our contractor has prepared us for what’s coming and has counseled us from the design phase forward with advisories about what might be lurking behind our 60-year-old plaster.
Through the past 33 years, I have been on countless site visits with watershape designers and builders and have seen all sorts of client relationships at work. The styles of these professionals – most of them men, but many women as well – range from the gruff and detached to the engaging and friendly. And the simple fact is that it all works, which goes to show that clients and watershapers find each other in pursuing shared processes in which anything is possible.
I recall cases in which I thought the watershaper was skating toward rudeness in quashing this or that client suggestion or request but then was relieved to perceive that it was the established nature of the particular relationship and that what looked contentious soon ended in laughter and agreement. I’ve seen flashes of homeowner anger turned aside with great skill – and moments of professional “resistance” resolved by deft compromises.
But most of all – and I’m taking these lessons particularly to heart in the current shambles of what I still call home – I have witnessed conversations about deadlines and expectations that run the range from the very awkward to the entirely assured. It’s as though this is one area that tests the skills of all professionals who get involved in substantial construction projects: Predicting how clients will react to snags and surprises is always easy; figuring out how to keep their moods up is seldom so.
Ultimately, it’s all about communication. But it’s also my observation that the watershapers I’ve accompanied on site have all been good readers of their clients, skillful weavers of narratives that make sense based on individual client needs and, yes, top-flight professionals who know what they’re doing and have built credibility by successfully navigating through just these sorts of issues.
I stand in awe of this sort of skill and occasional grace under pressure whenever I witness it. Happily, I’m finding similar qualities in my current contracting relationship and am relieved that, so far, they keep revealing their competence as we prepare for the next three months of furious activity on site.