Saturday, August 04, 2007

Unless you're rich, if you're buying a home in San Francisco, there's something wrong with it. Maybe it's too small, or next door to a crack house, or perhaps it has a giant pimple. The housing market in San Francisco is just too expensive to allow regular folks to buy unflawed homes. (Average home price in SF is currently over $800,000).

The flaw in our house was the front hallway. It was sloped and had giant cement support footers protruding into the walk space. The floor and the footers were tiled with a hideous pink tile with wide, dark gray grout. It made a terrible first impression. You'd enter the house, walk down that hallway and wonder whether it was leading you to a basement or the town garbage dump. Instead, you'd arrive at the kitchen.

So, before we moved in, about 9 years ago, we had it remodeled. We had the floor re-poured, and the support structures shaved down and disguised. Then it was time to pick paint colors, not just for the hallway, but for most of the rooms in our house.

Hank and I agonized over the choices. We muddled through the choices for the bedrooms, but the right colors for the hallway eluded us. We're both engineers, used to making choices based on data and algorithms, so the very notion of a completely aesthetic decision was contrary to our abilities and nature.

Day after day, we'd make trips to various paint stores, buying small cans of paint to see how they looked on the wall. On one such trip to a local hardware store, the store owner recognized that I'd been there before.

"Trying more paint colors, eh?" he asked, "That's quite a few so far. I've seen worse than you though. I had one guy come in here and go through TWENTY different colors! Can you believe it? TWENTY!" He punctuated the comment with a snort.

I stopped in my tracks and mentally counted the number of paint quarts we had bought. The previous batch brought us up to 23.

"Ha ha", I agreed, laughing nervously. "I think we might be getting near that number."

"Oh no! Good god. Let's fix this."

The guy then led me to the back of the store where they had a paint color computer. He asked me what we didn't like about the last few paint colors we had tried, asking if they were too blue, or red, or whatever. Then, based on my answers, he suggested new paint colors that addressed our concerns. It was a surprisingly algorithmic approach, and soothed the savage engineer beast within. Mmmmm, data, reassuring data.

Sadly, this approach didn't yield goodness either. After nearly 30 different attempts, we finally caved and went with white. We picked some vague off-white for the walls, and then diamond white for the molding and ceiling. The one white really made the other white pop. We added to the whiteness by installing a crapload of halogens, turning a journey down the hallway into a near ethereal experience.

Hank has hated that hallway ever since. Me? I liked to pretend that a trip down the hallway was like ascending to the heavens. I'm pretty sure that's the closest I'll ever get to Heaven too, but at least ending up in my kitchen is better than the fiery pits of Hell, so it all works out ok for me.

Anyway, since our house is currently being partly destroyed by contractors, we figured we'd get some rooms repainted while we were in Vermont last week. We had hired a painter to paint Daisy's room a few weeks ago and he did a nice job, so we asked him to paint our bedroom, our kitchen ceiling, and the dreaded hallway in our absence. We didn't want to paint the whole house. Some rooms were in good shape, and there was even one wall in the kitchen where we actually liked the color. However, for the to-be-painted walls, this meant choosing paint colors again.

Hank isn't one to make the same mistake twice, so this time she threw some money at the problem. The architect who designed our new room has a pretty good aesthetic sense, so we asked her to help pick some colors for us. She came over the night before we left for Vermont, and asked us questions like "What do you want your house to say about you?"

Hank puzzled over this question, so I interjected my answer.

"I want this house to make people think that I'm nicer than I am. It should fool people into thinking that I'm all friendly and crap."

"Oooh yeah," agreed Hank, "Smarter too."

Somehow this train of conversation ended up evolving into something productive and I lost interest. I heard words like "warm" and "inviting" and they all sounded fine. Whatever. Once we were past the smart-ass part of the discussion, I had no value to add. Hank and the architect perused the architect's big book of paint colors and eventually settled on a set of colors for the various areas that were to be painted.

I had previously walked the painter through the house, pointing out what we needed done, but Hank followed up with an email, listing the detailed instructions of which rooms and walls to paint. She taped this description near our front door. Then, she took post-it notes and affixed one to every single surface in the hallway and kitchen that needed painting, labeled with the appropriate color code. It was thorough, bordering on overkill.

Then, we departed for Vermont. The painter swooped in later that week and... Jesus, I'm not sure what happened. I think he had a brain seizure.

He called Hank midway through the week, with a question about which color to paint one of the kitchen walls.

"Kitchen wall?" asked Hank. "Don't paint ANY kitchen walls. Just the ceiling in the kitchen."

Well, ha ha ha, as it turns out, the painter had already either painted or primed all the walls in the kitchen, INCLUDING COVERING UP THE ONE WALL IN THE HOUSE THAT WE ACTUALLY LIKED. Then, instead of painting our bedroom, he painted our guest room. Ho ho ho, incompetence is hilarious.

We got home last weekend and surveyed the damage. He mis-painted almost everything we asked for. There was really only one area that he painted correctly, the infamous hallway. Hank and I stared at it. We hated the colors.

As it turns out, choosing walls color based on one-inch by one-inch squares in a book is a crappy way of doing it. It's like picking a car by just peering through the keyhole. "Hey, this one looks good! Cozy! Metally!"

So, things are in a bit of disarray around here. Meanwhile, the contractors finally cut a hole in our living room and built a staircase into our new room. We're finally able to go into the framed and unfinished room and look around. It looks... uh.... small. I want to go to the contractor and say, "Nice work, but can you embigger it a little? Around the edges?"

This is why I shouldn't have nice things.


newnorth said...

So, it's not so good to be home :p

The post it notes probably confused him, made him think the walls were desk tops or something.

Sue said...

Ooooh that hurts. Now you get to enter the territory of getting your painter to re-paint everything for free or call a lawyer. Fun!

Mike said...

Newnorth, I'll never know what confused him. I can't possibly phrase the question in a way that isn't completely offensive.

Sue, yeah. Luckily the painter is a super nice guy, so I think we'll manage to resolve this gracefully, financially speaking.