Monday, April 10

Home Improvement as Marriage Therapy

There's just nothing quite like doing demolition on a home to bring a couple together. It's a giddy mix of power (we just took out a WALL, people) and creativity (and we're gonna put in our OWN wall) that makes you feel like a celebrity power couple.

Unfortunately, once that wall is out, you've got to keep it together long enough to close the gaping hole in your wall and remove any trace that you've done renovation. (When we were house hunting, I remember coming to a home that looked like it was scabbed together out of Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and salvage brick, held together with Gorilla Glue. Z and I could not make eye contact as the realtor gushed about how the owner had done a lot of work on the house. You don't say? I'm thankful for those experiences, though, because they cemented in our minds the importance of renovations or additions looking both Intentional and Original.) And that's where the fun starts. But it's good fun, because although you're going to run into friction and frustration, if you can keep it together, you'll have built a monument to your teamwork - and that is fantastic.

So we ripped out the nasty basement doors this weekend. These things had worked for all they could. I honor their efforts. I'm not even convinced they were meant to be exterior doors, but they did what they could for four decades. The original threshold was compost, now - rich, dark soil beneath the aluminum, there. The doors themselves had rotted away around the bottom years before we bought the house. We closed the doors mostly out of habit, and in an attempt to keep some of the outside air outside. But snakes, spiders, mice, and a fairly determined toddler could all get through. The sidelights were homemade, and looked it. The years had not been kind to what was probably marginally attractive to begin with. All in all, the doors were the biggest stumbling block to making the basement livable space, and I've been looking forward to this for 12 years!

The rough opening is 112" wide. That doesn't sound terribly big until you're standing in it, four abreast, thinking, "Damn, we should have bought a garage door for this thing." But, no. No, I wanted French doors. I wanted light and an inviting entry. What was I thinking? I'm so lucky Z loves me.

Because working with cinder block and concrete is, evidently, hard, the rough opening was neither square nor plumb. So we had to frame that out to get it to some semblance of squareish and plumbish without having an entire 8x10 protruding from the outer bricks at one corner. Fortunately, we can frame together like pros. There's just no room to argue over whether something is 90 degrees or not. This is a good time for a marriage. You work together. You measure, secure, check. High five. Good, good stuff. If you're married to someone like me, you get to laugh at their attempts to actually hit the nail. If you're married to someone like Z, you get to sigh in awe at their ability to make something out of nothing. I hope at least one of you is like Z.

Then comes the harrowing task of trying to move a door that's big and heavy, without twisting it or scuffing it or dropping it. Without a crew. (We technically have a three-man crew, but one was at work, one was dancing, and one was watching the dance. So it was just the two of us, in the dark, reconsidering whether we think we're old yet.) This is where you think, "Glass? Really? Just had to have glass, didn't I?" But it's OK because your partner is thinking the exact same thing about you... So at least you're still on the same page.

And now, you really get to work on your marriage skills: installing the door. You'd think this would be pretty straightforward and simple, but it's not. There are different philosophies about how to get things done, who holds it up, or what steps are necessary and what steps are mostly just guidelines. You'll both think you're right. You'll both want to forge ahead and do it your way. But unless you're each putting in your own door, that's not going to work. For us, this is usually the longest part of a job - the part where we have to determine a path forward that takes in both our perspectives, both our visions, both our experiences. You're going to unearth a lot of unspoken frustrations, and a lot of deeply seated irritants. But hang in there. Hold your tongue. Take coffee breaks. Eat protein. Breathe deeply and pray. Kiss each other often, and laugh. (But not a maniacal laughter - that's usually not helpful.) For what it's worth, it took us one afternoon to frame in the rough opening. It took us two days to get the doors squared, secured, and sealed.

Still easier on a marriage than running electrical wire. So, there's that.

And now, we have beautiful French doors that allow you to look in on what is, clearly, an abandoned storage shed...

I guess now we have to work on making the basement fit the doors. But we'll do it together.

Be encouraged!

~ Dy

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