Surfers and rock climbers define the cleanest line as “the perfect route on the face of a rock or wave”. I’ve been designing and building for 25 years and often pondered; is there a “cleanest line” through a construction project?
Typically a project involves the owner, architect and builder – so the solitude I envy in the climber or surfer is lost. A perfect line means everyone must take the same route with the same attitude and professionalism.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracey Kidder wrote the wonderful book “House” which beautifully describes the personal and professional relationships between the home owner, architect and builder as the three embarked on the design and construction of a home in Massachusetts. Three professionals on the same wave will eventually get to the beach, but how their individual responsibilities affected their route was at times harmonious and at others a struggle.
My time to create the “cleanest line” finally came with the opportunity to build a cottage on Maryland’s eastern shore. So, I was Owner, with my wife, the designer and the builder. There were no concerns about availability. The conduit between these three principals was the space between my ears or a phone call to my wife. I had every chance to avoid the challenges of residential construction.
Stephen Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”talks about “beginning with the end in mind”. I practice this daily and because this project was going to be completed during my spare time and weekends it was especially important to know exactly what we wanted and how we intended to get there. We had plenty of time to work out all the pre-construction details and after three revisions I completed a plan I was sure met our needs and satisfied the “Designer”. We, as “Owners” understood the design and set a budget. I, as the “Builder” was excited because it was a builder-friendly design.
What transpired between these three shared responsibilities was truly a surprise.
A project I designed and could clearly visualize developed the exact same struggles between designer, owner (budget) and builder. Walls got moved, a flat ceiling was left open, fixture locations changed due to local codes, windows changed because the “Builder” got a deal. The availability of familiar trades affected a decision on wall finishes. The Builder and Designer had to account for every change with the Owner. The list was endless, right up to the end when the final coats of paint were drying.
I got a good laugh one day when I called my wife about another change and said “there is no way I thought we’d make this many changes”
In retrospect – this project showed me:
- The challenges of residential construction are inevitable
- It is foolish to think a plan is ever 100%
- The best projects are allowed the freedom to breathe and evolve
- Change can be good and rewarding
- When working with clients and architects, walk in their shoes.
In the end, by embracing the process and understanding that flexibility and trust are two corner stones of the working relationship resulted in the perfect weekend getaway for our family.