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King of Castle Frets Royally Over Remodeling

June 11, 1989|ART SANDFORD | Sandford teaches Spanish at Fillmore High School

Many grim stories have been written by homeowners about remodeling jobs that left them and their property permanently scarred. Although I have yet to remove a single door from its hinge or be stood up by a contractor, the remodeling nightmare has already begun for me.

After my wife and I sold our condominium at Vista Del Freeway and purchased our little piece of the American Dream here in Fillmore in Ventura County, we realized that in order to accommodate our growing family, our house would need some work and maybe even some expansion beyond the 2 1/2 bedrooms and one bath currently squeezed into 1,000 square feet.

A man is still king of his castle, until it comes to remodeling. That's when he loses control of his domain. That's when the queen, the town council and the artisans take over. The pride that I felt upon moving into our own separate, unique house is rapidly giving way to fear of watching it turned into a bad spoof of the "Money Pit."

Remodeling is like a wedding: The plans go from simple and intimate to extravagant and financially ruinous. What we most desired (and still do) was a shower. (The water kind, not the wedding kind.) A bath in the morning is just not the same as a good, hot, water-wasting shower--the ultimate in decadence. That was the idea behind our remodeling, installing a shower.

That was before my wife got to looking at House Beautiful and similar publications and began talking to friends who had done such wonderful things to their houses. From a simple shower, the tentative plans now include a second-story addition, stuccoing, new windows, central heating and air conditioning, a fireplace, an additional bathroom, expanded kitchen, skylights and a helicopter landing pad (just kidding).

Bureaucracy in Action

My wife and I have had more than our share of disagreements about the ultimate outcome. We're getting to the point where we'll just say: "Have your architect call my architect."

Small-town bureaucracy, or port-a-trailer government, also presents an obstacle. My mother-in-law has tried for the better part of the 20th Century to obtain a building permit to remodel her front porch here in Fillmore, but has had only limited success.

A high-ranking official had asked her to wait until the City Council passed some sort of Front Porch Remodeling and Cat Neutering Act before submitting the application for the permit. When the law was passed and the application submitted, the city government apparatus tiptoed into action.

The previous building inspector had rejected the plans once. It was resubmitted exactly as it had been submitted the first time, and the new inspector approved it. It was then left for the planning director to approve.

Wanting to speed up the process a little, my wife hand-delivered her mother's application to the planning director, bypassing the city clerk. This was a no-no. The planning director refused to sign the application until she could speak with the building inspector, who would not be available for several days as he was apparently attending a building inspectors' convention and Spam potluck. The saga continues. . . .

To put it mildly, the city government does not appear to be very remodeler-friendly. This is rather unfortunate in a city whose housing stock as a whole is substandard and rapidly deteriorating. (In all fairness, I must note that the city is beginning a low-interest redevelopment program for substandard houses; we may even qualify, unless this article finds its way to the Planning Commission.)

Despite my mother-in-law's discouraging experience with her porch, my spirits remain high. As a teacher, I look forward to the annual summer ritual of restarting those projects that were left by the wayside last September.

Remodeling is at the top of my priority list and so I am going at it full tilt. But rather than bashing in walls, I am reading books such as "The Joy of Carpentry," "An Idiot's Guide to Do-It-Yourself Plumbing" and "You and Your Stucco." I also catch "This Old House" on PBS whenever possible and marvel at the glibness with which the host turns hopeless shanties into glittering mansions within 30 minutes.

Entering the foreign land of building and remodeling threatens the little sovereignty that I currently possess over my home. I am bilingual, but I don't speak Construction. To me, a framer is someone who had something to do with the writing of the Constitution. A truss is something that I would never want to wear. And rafters is where I sit at a hockey game.

Communications Test

Communicating with the carpenters, plumbers, electricians, architects and masons who will soon rearrange the face and body of my humble home will be a real test of my endurance and sense of humor. I have been making some cultural adaptations that might aid in the breaking of the language barrier.

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