Two years ago JR and his wife Scotch put their house on the market. There were few showings and no takers. The realtor mentioned they were a little light on curb appeal and maybe an upgrade would be helpful. JR poo-pooed that idea and eventually the listing contract expired and that was that. Except, JR complained about it every time I saw him for the next year or so. He found no logic in being advised to improve a home he wanted to leave. More than once he said, " I was in banking for 30 years! It is just stupid to invest in the past. It only makes sense to invest in the future."
Every time he delivered this sermon I managed to refrain from asking what happened to his banking career. The neighborhood chat on that is he got in a right juvenile temper up at the bank one day and walked out. Next morning he got up, got dressed and went to work as usual . When he was still in the break room getting his coffee the president came over and asked why he was there. JR laughed saying, "Good one!" To his credit, the word is, the bank president pulled JR aside to privately remind him he had quit his job the day before and reinstatement would not be forthcoming. Subsequent trips to various law firms did not help either.
About a year ago, I went out to fetch the mail to find a service truck parked in my front yard. One Day Bath Remodel! was emblazoned on the side. I felt a little cranky about the truck. Beyond that irritation, I was truly horrified to think others would believe this designer would ever sanction this cheaper than cheap service or product in my own home or the home of any of my clients!
Fortunately, before I had a stroke, JR and Scotch emerged from their house with the driver and sent him on his way. Over by the mail boxes Scotch said,
" Fishy, what do you think about these bath tub covers".
" I don't have any experience with that particular product Scotch, what did you think about it?"
" It saves a bunch of money! You know our house started in the fifties and the original finishes are still in there. The bathroom tiles are sorry looking and the tub is worse. These people can come take measurements one day then come back in a week with molded panels and voila! a new bath in a day."
" Do you like your Bathroom?"
" What do you mean?"
" Does it meet your needs?"
" No! It is awful. It always has been cramped for one, nevermind two. Can you imagine sharing one small pedestal sink for 35 years?"
" No. Are you getting a larger sink?"
"Changing the floor or wall tiles you mentioned?"
"The light fixtures?"
" Any storage in there?'
" Wow. I guess I don't understand your "new bath" concept."
" Well the tub and shower will look new with the plastic wall panels and tub cover."
" Good luck with that Scotch.
When you have this done will you ask them to not park their trucks in our front yard?"
" It wasn't there very long Fishy, your grass is hardly laying down."
The next morning the phone rang. It was the neighbors asking if I would come look at their bathroom.
" You know JR, I am really busy and on my way out the door."
" Well come this evening when you get home."
" Can I call you later?"
" No, just come on over when you get home. We'll be here."
pick up your pencils and write this down, " Real life 101: it is as important to know which clients to decline as it is to know which clients to accept." I don't remember a chapter on how to reject your neighbor without causing friction. Blowfish advised me to go do a chatty neighbor consult and bail. I felt a little cranky.
Ultimately I went , looked, cringed and told the truth.
The bath was too small. In fact would not pass code and would no longer be "grandfathered" if they wanted to make improvements. That meant, the space would need to be completely gutted and expanded. Scotch asked if I could make a plan which could expand the bathroom, not take any space out of their bedroom or the one on the other side of the bath, not take away already limited closet space and not expand through the exterior wall.
In hopes of making a gracious exit I told them it was a tough issue needing a specialist in Bath designs. I mentioned even if the footprint could not be expanded the function, finishes and fixtures could all be upgraded. JR mentioned if he was going to invest in a new bath he had to get everything he wanted or it would not be worth doing. I recommended a Bath design specialist and suggested they make a list of criteria to review during the appointment and made my escape.
The specialist was " offensively expensive". Did I mention my neighbor carries the nickname "Scotch" because of her thriftiness?
They ambushed me at the mailboxes and stated their intentions to "hire me to design a bath for them".
" Now Fishy, we know you are a pro and we are prepared to pay for your services"
"JR, I cost twice as much as those specialists you found offensive".
" Well then , we will accept your good neighbor discount"
" This isn't fair".
"What isn't fair?"
" You gave Scotch a bigger vanity! Mine is smaller and in the same space as the toilet!" Since for the past 35 years this man has had a sink and a toilet in the same room,
I was not sure why he found this "unfair".
Taking in a big, calming breath I responded, "Actually JR, ownership of these sinks has not been assigned to any one party. There is a slight difference in the widths of these vanities, but it is actually only 3". What has been planned is a bathroom expansion with two zones. One has a sink, storage and a shower. The other has a sink, storage and a toilet. My thoughts are the sinks would be used as needed when in either zone."
Yeah, there was more lip.
Ultimately the plans conference ended with me giving them the builder's card and them declaring their need to think about the investment. They did call the builder so a week later I went on over there to meet with the builder to review the plans with him and answer all his what if questions before he spent time on an estimate. After that, when I ran into one of them out by the mailboxes they either waved and left or said they were still " weighing their options". A few months later the plastic bath cover up people were back over there. I think there might have been a problem. Not just because JR's pouty lip resembled Pinocchio's nose but because their installation crew came back and back and back every few days for weeks. My grass looked bad and I felt a bit cranky about it all.
I have never been able to think the same way about these neighbors as I did before this experience. I think it is probably pretty ordinary to have thoughts of our friends and neighbors evolve as we add history and learn more about each other. In this case, every time I see JR I hear his whiny voice in my head and wonder what kind of man pouts about a sink? I could have gone my whole life and been happy to have never seen that close up view of his lip or her thriftiness. This morning I was thinking I should take JR a plastic baggie. To put over his head.