I walk into a just-completed house to have a look around. I’m alone, it’s quiet, I move slowly. It’s the only way to really see. Stand in one place and look at everything visible from that spot. Move to another. Gaze at every nook and cranny.
Look for beauty. Look for alignment. Look for flaws.
Examine each intersection of wall, ceiling, and roof planes. Look at every window – the trim around them, the feel of the sills, the views through them. Interior views too; what do we see at the end of the hall?
Check the daylight in the room. Is it balanced, is there too much glare or contrast? Should there have been a window in that corner?
How are things positioned? Why is that fixture just a smidge off center over the dining room table? That’s an unusual place for a doorstop, but I guess it’s okay.
Our clients will move in two days later. I try to imagine them experiencing the results of a year of decisions. Some were easy. Some were agonizing. What will the space feel like all clean and shiny and complete? I remember conversations with them standing here months ago when it was dusty and raw and partial.
It’s a small, carefully detailed, highly crafted house. Our clients are observant, discerning, strong-willed. The place looks pretty good. Houses are never perfect, of course, never even close. But I don’t see anything seriously wrong at first, except the kitchen faucet. It’s a tall gooseneck, and it’s noticeably crooked. Too crooked. I fool around with it, mess with the nut that holds it tight, wonder why it’s like that, and wonder how to fix it.
I have no idea how to do it.
Back in the office, I write a glowing e-mail to our project architects, our foreman, and our carpenters. I mention the faucet (I put that part in parentheses). Greg, the architect, writes back, ” That’s no problem. We’ll take care of it.” Nice. That’s just what I would say to a client if they were to see it and bring it to my attention. Just what I would say, not knowing how to fix it, but knowing that someone will know. Not knowing, either, if it would be a big problem or a little problem. Just knowing it needs to get done.
At times like this it’s pleasing to be part of a company that consists of a large group of people who know how to do stuff, who know how to solve problems, who know about remedies and fixes and tricks and adjustments. I may not know who knows, but I know that someone in the company knows – whatever it is – or somebody knows how to find out. It’s almost like The Company Knows.
It could be a question about wood, or codes, or building science, or ventilation, or cleaning, or design, or color, or doorstops, or just about anything – the topics are endless.
We look for answers. We try to find solutions. We try things out.
Picasso once said, “God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things.” That’s what we do. We just keep trying other ways to make better houses. Other ways to make a better company.
We do things. We make things. We change things.
As I walked out of that sweet little house that day, I spotted a particularly nice joint on the porch where the reclaimed fir post meets the plate. As I looked at it, I stumbled clumsily on the threshold and tore the screen in the screen door ever so slightly. I mentioned that in the e-mail too.
We break things. We fix things.