Tool Girl Again: The Rewards of Finish Work

A little over two years ago when I finally got the Certificate of Occupancy for my little house and garage-studio, there were a few things undone still, details large and small I knew I'd want to finish at some point. But by then I'd been living with construction guys coming and going for nine months, and I just wanted peace and quiet to settle into the spaces I designed for myself and this new solo life. 

Last winter, I started thinking about finishing those last projects. I spent some time designing in my head, and then mentioned to Dan Thomas, my wonderful contractor at Natural Habitats, that if his crews had any time, I was in "finish-it" mode. 

A couple of weeks ago, two of Dan's lead carpenters, Mike Downey ("Mackie") and Mike Potts, came over. Both of them worked on the house and garage/studio at various stages of construction, so they know the place well. 

We talked about the projects: a porch "roofette" over my front door in the style of the existing porch roofs on both buildings, a built-in breakfast counter in my kitchen to add dining space, a counter/nightstand next to my bed in the bedroom, and a built-in bench for the new flagstone dining patio I've mostly finished at the foot of the stairs to the studio. 

They measured and asked questions, and the three of us tossed around ideas. Mike P drew sketches in his notebook and wrote notes about dimensions and materials; Mackie made notes in his head because that's what he does.

At the end of our discussion, I okayed the materials order, and they said they'd be back the next week to start work when it came in.

The next Monday morning, they set up chop saws and table saws, and began work on the front-door porch. And I found to my surprise that I enjoyed having construction guys around again; the creative work of dealing with the details of design and building was a good counterpoint to the emotional intensity of revising Bless the Birds

Mike P is on the ladder attaching the galvilume roofing; Mackie is giving advice… 

By early afternoon on Wednesday, they were putting on the roofing and flashing, and I was admiring the way it shades and shelters my south-facing front entry, giving it a welcoming feel.

Then Mike P went to work on the counters, and Mackie cut and sanded the rough-cut Douglas-fir we had decided on for the dining patio benches. That evening, Mackie's son-in-law, Lee, came over to consult about the brackets to hold the benches for my dining nook to the existing metal railings. 

Friday, Mike and Mackie finished shaping the counters, which involved more design questions, and a trip for me to Johnny Berndt & Sons, the local heating/cooling shop where the galvanized metal edging would be made, so I could explain my design to Ken and his helper. In between finishing up edits on my memoir, I painted both counters and Mackie took them to Berndt & Sons, and then Lee brought over the brackets, and they installed my gorgeous new dining benches.

Mackie and Lee installing the brackets for the dining patio benches. 

Over the weekend, I applied deck oil to the top and sides of the new benches. I stopped often to admire the benches and the front-door entry roofette. I was ridiculously pleased to see my ideas come to life, even better than I had imagined them, thanks to the skills of "my" guys.

The dining bench, thanks to Mackie and Lee; the steel table is one Richard designed and built for his gallery in Denver. I lacquered the table to protect it from the weather. 

On Monday, I picked up the finished counter edging, and then Mackie and I consulted about how to install it. Because my workshop is small and the construction adhesive needed to dry overnight, he worked on one counter at a time. Which was fine because it gave me time to touch up the painted upper surfaces. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Mike and Mackie and I discussed counter installation details. A few hours later, the counters were in and they were packing up their tools again. By evening, I was enjoying peace and quiet, and a wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes with being involved with tools and materials and construction again. 

Over the weekend, I cut and installed carpet squares to go under the new breakfast counter in the kitchen, and finished some other little details. And then just walked around and beamed at what we'd built: the porch roof, both counters, and the dining benches. 

The new breakfast nook counter on the right. Richard's steel table used to take up that space. 

Writing–spinning words into compelling stories–is my way of understanding the world, and sharing what I know. It's rewarding work even when it's frustrating and intense and difficult.

But it's largely a mental exercise. I forget sometimes how gratifying it is to spend time creating physical objects. Especially ones that improve my little house and the way I live in it.  

As with writing, houses are never actually finished–each change made shifts our perspective and understanding of the whole, and new ideas emerge. So while I say my house is now finished, the truth is that now I'm thinking about a few other improvements…  

The new counter in my bedroom, which gives me space for an "altar" of family photos where I do yoga and say my gratitudes every morning.