Inside today’s newspaper you’ll find our annual Spring Home Improvement section. My wife and I are in the final stages of the biggest home improvement project of our 46 years of married life, that of building a retirement cabin.
Be careful of the nomenclature. It’s a cabin. Not a house. I mean the cabin will be our home as we enter more deeply into retirement, but we’re evacuating a five-bedroom, three bathroom house for a 960-square foot main floor cabin, built above our pond and nestled into the north facing timber.
It’s a cabin. Okay, there’s a full basement and a loft which doesn’t exactly make it a tiny house, but trust me, downsizing from spacious two-story home is no small feat of domestic engineering.
I have two hobbies that entail collecting, one of early 1950 pick-up trucks (preferably red) that includes wall hangings, original art and toy trucks; the other wildlife/hunting/mountain art. Those two collections, almost all of which hang in our home, won’t fit in the new cabin’s main floor and loft areas. Which means I won’t need to finish the basement with drywall or paneling because I can pretty much cover it with my art collections.
Throughout our married life my wife has had a negative view of holding garage sales. She is perfectly fine with anybody else selling their stuff, but thinks if we put our stuff out for sale, we consider it junk and then somebody else would be forced into buying our junk. “Right!” I said with no small amount of emotion. “That’s what garage sales are!”
However, she is okay with us giving it to Goodwill and letting them sell our junk. I’m only the husband, I’m not paid to understand.
Anyway, we’ve got to get the cabin built before we decide what to move and what to…well…whatever it is we’re going to do with the rest.
As a semi-retired guy, I’ve had the pleasure of watching really skilled contractors, helping out some (mostly picking up scraps and construction debris), putting up all of the great room interior pine car siding, repurposing yellow pine trim from the King Opera House and doing most of the plumbing (with help from a friend).
What you learn when you actually have time to observe is that carpenters, electricians, HVAC people, concrete guys, dirt work guys, the cabinet makers, the sheetrockers and floor guys all have amazing skill sets. They see things and can do things that yeah, sure, maybe anybody could do, except they do it a hundred times better with blazing efficiency. My main contractor looked at the plans for the cabin and said something like, “Naw, you don’t want to do that,” and then proceeded (with our advice and consent) to put together an all new floor plan using a blue chalk-line on the OSB covering over the basement.
Nothing against the architect who designed the cabin, but my guy did it way better.
We’re having custom kitchen cabinets made by a guy who holds three master’s degrees in engineering, but took early retirement from John Deere because he liked working with wood better than green metal. Much of his skill comes from really good tools, but his real gift is in his vision. He sees things in his head and on his computer screen that normal people just don’t see.
If you haven’t seen really good sheetrocking craftsmen, you need to. Holy cow, they turn gypsum board into an art form.
There’s nothing wrong for a man or a woman to be completely disinterested in learning the skills needed in building stuff. For me, it is like enrolling in the best university in the world, except that the finished product is something you can touch and feel. As frustrating as doing trades work is (and I know because I’ve had to tear stuff up because of mistakes) it is at the same time incredibly gratifying. When you do plumbing and it’s completely hidden except in the basement and you turn on a faucet and water comes out without leaking everywhere, the feeling of accomplishment is overwhelming. Same thing with wiring an outlet or a light. Nobody coming into your home even sees the wiring or what is behind the outlet covering, but if you’ve been a part of the wiring process and the light comes on when you flip the switch, you smile inside.
We haven’t even started to think about landscaping, planting flowers or doing pretty stuff outside. That is an entirely different set of skills that probably trap more people than actually carpentry. Go to any greenhouse, or to a hometown lumber yard or a big box lumber store and find yourself surrounded by plants and trees and rocks and landscaping stone and your eyes glass over.
I hope you like our Spring Home Improvement section. There are some very cool stories and photos of people who have the vision to build or improve a home as well as people who actually do the work of home improvement.
And if you shake your head and wonder why humankind has this internal drive to improve upon their homes and garages and barns, just hand a four or five-year-old kid some scrap wood, a few nails and a hammer and see what happens.
It will answer most or your questions.