Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Almost the last renovation post. Honestly.

A few night ago, Mr Tabubil had a skype call with his sister. I heard her asking “how Tabubilgirl was doing? How’s the blog? I haven’t heard much from her for the last few months-”
            And poor Mr Tabubil got an earful from my direction while he winced and said very carefully into the microphone that "No-o, Tabubilgirl has had to put her life rather on hold for the last six months or so. She's acting pretty cabin-feverish, these days, as well-"
            And then he had to dodge a pillow that had been mysteriously flung out of nowhere right at his head. And another one that was mysteriously aimed right at his computer.
            "You can't hit her." He yelped, his arms wrapped around the monitor. "She's in Washington. How cabin-feverish are you? We’ve reached some sort of delirium state now?"

Hello. I’m back. It’s been a while. I descended into the dark underbelly of the kitchen design industry, and then I clawed my way up and out of the other side, and I no longer come home at night to howl and shred pillows in the privacy of my room.
            Bawling after the fact, in privacy, being less legally compromising than threatening kitchen designers with defenestration as a motivational technique.

The last time I talked about the renovations, we were having an extremely dynamic day.  Among other interesting events, I was on the phone with the head office of a kitchen design company, trying to find out why a delivery of kitchen cabinets wasn’t happening. The call wasn’t going very well.

When the cabinets did finally arrive at the flat – only three weeks after they were completed in the factory, they didn’t actually fit. 
            The dimensions of the cabinets didn’t match the dimensions of the kitchen or the dimensions on the architect’s plans, neither of which corresponded with each other in some rather significant respects. 
            I called the head office to complain, and got a martyred sigh in reply. They’d worked so hard, the Architect said, on those cabinets. They really had. Cutting, gluing, screwing, sanding – her voice got a whole lot crisper and a whole lot harder. Whether or not they actually fitted was now immaterial. They were there. If we wanted new ones we’d have to pay up front for a whole new kitchen. And if we had a problem with that, we could smoke it.
            Eighty decibels of heated opinion later, I had a new set of cabinets on order, with no idea that this was going to be the high water mark of our relationship. In retrospect, I should have dropped the issue and found a new kitchen to go with the cabinets instead.
            Along the way to our finished kitchen, we learned all sorts of things - for example, right about the moment when our building’s residents at the point of defenestrating us, we discovered that our kitchen designers had a whole department of painters and plasterers and general odd-job cleaners and construction specialists on standby – devoted exclusively to the repair of apartments that didn’t actually belong to their clients. In all fairness, they did get the all the apartments on floors two through four of our building completely cleaned up on only two hours notice, but it gave us some serious pause for thought.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo,  our general contractor, was getting curious. And the kitchen countertops had arrived. They were the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong material and only five weeks late, but at this point, that was about par for the course.

“I’ve got a friend who does kitchens.” Rodrigo said one afternoon. I was sitting in the half-painted hallway outside the kitchen with my head in my hands. Inside the kitchen, a pair of young apprentices- their very first week on the job-  were sealing the joins in the stone countertops with a silicone almost exactly opposite on the color wheel, and refusing to call a  supervisor on the basis that any discrepancy in color was due to vision problems. Mine.
            But I was fighting back.  By this point in the game, I had the Head Executive of the kitchen company on speed-dial. 
            “He’s an independent contractor, this friend of mine,” Rodrigo said. “He’s pretty busy at the moment. Has all the work he can handle – and more.” 
He waited politely while I dialed the CEO’s number and yelled at an answering machine for a while.
            “They’re not picking up?” He said.
            “That’s the fifth time I’ve called. I think they’re screening my number. Can I borrow your phone?”
             He handed me his cell phone. I dialed and got the answering machine again, so I yelled at it from his phone for a while. 
             Rodrigo scratched the back of his head reflectively.  “I’ve been asking around,” he said. “Everyone in Santiago who does kitchens is pretty busy right now.  Turns out your kitchen company has been kicked off of half their projects in the last six months. You said you got the recommendation from a friend?”
            “Two friends.” I sighed. “Their kitchens were amazing. They couldn’t say enough about these guys. They were swift, professional, timely, good at what they did -”
            From the kitchen came the sound of stone grinding on stone. We both grimaced.
            “They might have been all right when your friends did their kitchens," Rodrigo said.  "What was that,two years ago? But they’re a different outfit now. Too many clients, too many workshops, a new manager-”
            “Who doesn’t return phone calls?”
             He sighed. 
             I sighed.
             In the kitchen, something heavy fell on the tile floor. Someone swore. I put my head back in my hands. “I’ll get Mr Tabubil to call from his office,” I said. “His office switches up the numbers on outgoing calls. The kitchen company can’t keep up.”

At the end of the day it took some serious legal lawyering to get the apprentices out and the kitchen anywhere near finished.  Outside the kitchen, the general contracting was also going swimmingly, on account of how the same day the apprentices arrived with the countertops, our plumber hooked up the new pipes in the laundry, and sealed and painted the wall up behind him – without stopping to leak-test the new seals. Our downstairs neighbors had a bathtub’s worth of things to say about that.
            So did the elderly lady four floors below, who was complaining of a great big waterfall coming through her kitchen ceiling. It was definitely there. It just vanished when other people came around. Why was the floor dry?  It was dry because the puddles drained away through the floor while we were ringing the doorbell.  The only cure was going to be a brand new kitchen of her own – we had some rather nice designers we could pay to do one for her, didn’t we?

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