Renovating a house is like having a baby. It’s prolonged, tiresome and hurts like hell, and at the peak of the horror everyone swears they’ll never do it again. (A lot of swearing is done throughout, really).
In some ways it’s worse than labor. With an obstructed baby, the doctor can caesar you out of your misery; one good yank and 40 minutes of stitching and it’s all over.
With a house, there is no way out of it except through it, and you have almost no control over the time frame.
This is because you’re simultaneously the one hurting and the one helplessly urging “PUSH!” from the sidelines.
Our builder was a charming Irishman, who would promise us the world with obvious sincerity and a seductive brogue – and then disappear for days.
(I suspect he never actually kissed the Blarney stone; he just kept telling it he would be back tomorrow).
Naifs, we had not realised that builders keep several jobs going simultaneously, and that their tradesmen are the 20th-century equivalent of mediaeval strolling players – here one day, performing at someone else’s gig the next. Their schedule, we suspected, was at least partly predicated on the need to hose down whichever exasperated owner was most acutely demented at the time.
There was plenty to be demented about. We “cooked” in the hallway with a frypan, toaster and kettle for six weeks (remarks hitherto unimaginable fell from our children’s lips, the most priceless of which was “Not more takeaway!”).
We shovelled mounds of rubble off the parquet floor in the loungeroom. We shivered from breezes whistling through gaps where windows and doors should have been.
We lost the ability to be startled by Blundstone-booted strangers in odd places at even odder hours.
We greeted them with delight; a new tradesman meant a new stage – progress! (The regulars were like extended family in the end; nothing like greeting people in your pyjamas every morning to break the ice).
But the tension of waiting for Wayne nearly broke us. Wayne was our Godot, the long-awaited personage whose arrival would signal an end to our suffering (which consisted, at that stage, of being unable to use the new bathroom or the old laundry).
Wayne was “an arrr-tist with the tiles”, the builder assured us solemnly.
Several weeks after the first call went out, Wayne arrived. He was, indeed, an artist with the tiles. He had a lovely eye and deft hands and was a perfectionist; I was sent back to the tile shop because the very last border tile was the wrong one of two and would have broken the pattern.
The painter was like that, too, and the cabinetmaker and the sparky and the plumber.
They cared about what they did, took quiet pride in their skills and got it right first time. They were also unfailingly courteous. There are worse things than having to wait.
The “16-week job” that began in January reached lock-up in July, was largely finished by September and had the last couple of details completed in October. It’s terrific: big, light, airy – and beautifully finished.
The builder kept all those promises, eventually.
And, as soon as the new house was handed over to us, the miseries we’d endured on its behalf began to fade.
It was worth it. This part is pure pleasure. As they say in the birth notices, many thanks to Gerry, Sean, Andrew, John, Tim, Stan and Graeme, our patient and inspired architect.
We took advantage of both qualities, changing our minds continually and finally going with the third set of “final drawings”.
I guess we weren’t the only ones who thought this would never be over.
If you’re considering renovating, there are only two things to keep in mind, really.
First, dust means progress. And second, if you want to be finished by Christmas, start in January.
First published in The Age.