We're Not Building A Piano
You may have noticed I’ve not posted an update about the mudroom renovation, resplendent with discouraging “before” and radiant “after” photos even “This Old House” would envy. Were Scott Omelianuk and his team of handy DIYers looking through the single-pane windows trimmed enchantingly with uneven dried-out dirty tan blobs of Great Stuff spray foam insulation that pre-date the Regan administration, their expressions would reflect a masterful blend of pity and disbelief. I wish they were looking through the windows; I could offer them sandwiches in exchange for an hour or two of labor (hey, I make a mean tuna salad. Ask to see the before and after pictures of that, why don’t you?).
Back in March, our spirits and courage in high gear, Patrick and I knew we could bang out the demolition and drywall phases of this project, meet some friends for lunch an hour away by the end of the week, and return to our respective workplaces with accomplishment oozing from our pores. Let other fools hire out such a job; we’ve got sturdy work boots and hours of YouTube “Instructable” videos to coach us through to completion.
But something happened on the way to renovation paradise, and here we are, still limping along, one of us literally, and I just put on the first coat of drywall primer. It’s May 19th, by the way. We struck our first blow to the old drywall on March 23rd. I’ll wait while you do the math…
Demolition was easy, and rather fun, since we weren’t going to get into trouble for ripping off old brown paneling sections and punching holes in the textured drywall ceiling like spoiled rock stars in a cheap hotel room. We flung the ragged sections out the back door with gleeful abandon unbefitting two middle-aged lovebirds, and tamed the pile of debris into those tough contractor trash bags (we bought two 40-count boxes, and just opened the second one last week). When I found a perfectly mummified rat behind the old insulation above one of the windows, I knew it was break time. We stood back and surveyed the small area with satisfaction, and took ourselves out to dinner. Day one was in the books (you should know that we broke our record for the most trash bags piled up at the curb, and left three gift cards in a Zip-loc baggie dangling from the handle of our green trash bin for the patient garbage collector. He would earn his paycheck and more when he arrived the next day to do his job).
We hummed our way, more or less, through the fun of cutting large pink fluffy and itchy sections of batt insulation, gently pushing it into the uneven spaces between the wall studs, and hoisting it overhead into the gaps between ceiling beams, stapling the paper edges to the 100+ year-old wood. It was at this point that we felt the first twinges of unmet expectations nibbling at our project enthusiasm. But the weather was kind—sunny and warm enough to move the drywall cutting phase outside. And our marriage was still intact.
What tested our patience (with the project and each other, at times) was this drywall phase, with its finer work of measuring (twice) and cutting (once) the drywall sections, mudding and taping into the corners of a room that I don’t think was ever built square, and using what felt like a chef’s canvas-rolled collection of specialty knives to apply and “feather” the joint compound not just once, but four or six times (when we were buying the supplies we needed, I wondered why there were only two bucket sizes of compound available—the “quick patch” size, and the 50-gallon drum. Surely it was more than we’d ever use, but how would I sell what was left on Facebook?). I got stuck on the word “feather”, because it sounded so soft and pleasant and light. It’s none of that, and quite the trick, applying pressure on the knife blade at just the right angle to smooth the outer edges of the mud beyond the ever-so-slightly thicker seamlines where one piece of drywall met another (my favorite part remains the “letting it dry” part). With great humility, I state freely that I have still not mastered this. Thank God for the sanding step, which I have mastered.
Patrick has the mind of an engineer, and can logically work his way through learning any new skill. But he’s also cursed with the desire to do something new perfectly the first time, and his own worst and harshest critic when “perfect” is nowhere near the outcome staring back at him. With this renovation, I tended more toward the “good is good enough” vibe, and glazed over the rough edges of where we were clearly going to fall short. It was this contrast in opinions and approaches that shut us both down on getting the mudroom done sooner. Days became weeks, and we turned our attention to any other task but this one—cleaning out the fridge, cutting the grass, taking longer to sweep off the front porch than was necessary, binge-watching “Corner Gas” on Amazon Prime Video. Until one night, I just snapped. Most of what we stored in the old version of the mudroom was now packed and stacked in the once-clean and bright living room, waiting to be repatriated and organized. I couldn’t live in what felt like a storage unit with houseplants for the unforeseeable future anymore. We needed to push past this impasse in our perspectives and find a reasonable path forward.
I remembered two bits of wisdom that Patrick had often spoken aloud when bravely coaching himself through other project setbacks: “ ‘Perfection’ is the enemy of ‘good enough’ “, and “We aren’t building a piano”. It was a risk, tossing these back at him as a way to put an end to our inertia. Thankfully, our marriage has tolerated and survived much greater challenges, and he received his own wise counsel with patience and grace. We bought a can of drywall primer and a couple of wrong-sized paint pan liners. Some dear friends and fellow DIYers offered gentle advice about wiping the patches of joint compound with a damp cloth instead of dry sanding, and a door to project traction was kicked open.
Now, as I write this and the primer is drying, I can see in my mind’s eye the finished pale blue walls of what will be the new and improved mudroom, with rolling metal shelving and plastic totes with snap on lids keeping our craft supplies and sweat towels neatly stored and easy to find. If I don’t look too closely, I won’t see the places where the drywall seams didn’t butt together squarely, and the ceiling near the door to the crawlspace is off by a couple of inches. I’ll see only a better view through the single-paned windows where the sunlight can now pour through on the room that made us just a little smarter, and a lot more humble.
Scott Omelianuk, if you’re reading, you’re welcome to come take a look. After all, I do make a pretty mean tuna sandwich.