"This one or that one?" Marta asked.
"Darker or lighter?
"Are you going to outline the tile or make the grout lines invisible?"
And so it went . . .
No, grout isn't the most exciting choice you'll ever make on a remodeling project, but it's significant just the same. More to the point, selecting grout means we are finally moving into the finishing phase of the remodel and that development excites me no end.
That's not to say my family will be moving back in anytime soon, but that the construction from here on out is forward progress we can see as opposed to the not-so-sexy sewer laterals, rough plumbing, and electrical cables that sit behind the walls and under ground. A solid foundation for all of the work to come is essential of course, but there's no thrill in new concrete or steel tie-downs (at least not to this gal who thrives on the visual. My engineer is probably ecstatic. )
I had already done the work of selecting the tiles and my contractor, PJ, had been by the shop to consult on square footage and linear requirements, so now, Jill and I were getting down to the nitty gritty of picking the grout colors for each of the different applications. Considering that Calmar now has four and a half bathrooms and two kitchens between the main house and the apartment downstairs (legal btw!) there really were a lot of design choices to be made . . . a grout box is akin to looking at a box of Crayolas.
Grout doesn't just come in white and beige any longer so it takes a bit of time and intention to get it right. For many people in the remodeling process, this is the part that can literally unhinge them. With so many options (both good and bad) from which to choose, be it grout, tile, stone, lighting, fixtures, faucets, appliances, hardware, windows, doors, wallpaper, etc., etc., etc., the choices are almost endless. (Take heed, a gold sink and trendy tile will cost you more and will undoubtedly age your property quicker. Stick to the classics for timeless design.)
"What color do you want us to stain the floors?" (Walnut.)
"Double-hung or casements windows?" (Both.)
"What color will we be painting the walls?" (I'm undecided.)
"What style of cabinet works best?" (Quaker.)
"Will you be need an ice maker in your fridge?" (Yes!)
It's a TON of decisions to be sure, but it's also great. Of course, the most important decision comes BEFORE you spend the money on tile and grout, on new windows and doors, and on new lighting, it comes when you decide whether or not to remodel in the first place.
If your marriage can withstand a good deal of stress (I'm not kidding about this one), if you are comfortable making quick decisions and adjusting for the unexpected, if you love your neighborhood (and your neighbors), if your location is good, and if your lot is nearly impossible to duplicate, then the answer is emphatically, "YES!"
If, on the other hand, decisions overwhelm you, if you are prone to second guessing yourself (and others!), if the next door neighbor is on you secret "hit list," and if the thought of drywall dust sends you straight to your allergist and screaming into the night, you are probably NOT a very good candidate for a full-scale remodel, in which case, may I kindly show you some replacement properties? (I'm absolutely available by appointment.)
The hard part of the equation really comes in a clear understanding of what it will cost to renovate versus what you will spend to move. In some cases, a move up is going to be cheaper by far than remodeling, while in others, the next step up represents a hurdle too significant to leap. Gone are the days when a $20,000 bump moved you into the next house. Now, it's much more likely that the next rung in the ladder will be in the neighborhood of half a million and your tax base will increase along with it. In both cases, you'll very likely spend more than you thought, OR more than you had budgeted.
That's unfortunately, the nature of the beast. Sharpen your pencils and don't forget to add for the transfer taxes, commissions, moving truck, etc., that a physical move entails, OR the rent you may pay if you need to move out during the course of a remodel. (If I tell you that it's all going to be okay, would you believe me? It is.)
Whatever the decision, the important thing is to make it and then move on to the next. The worst place to be in in limbo. Try to remember, it's a patio light for goodness sakes, not a life or death decision, so pick one and then keep moving forward. If you find yourself paralyzed with fear, hire a designer to help you with the more expensive choices that are exceedingly costly to correct midstream. Paint colors are easily changed while floor tile is not. A good interior designer can save you major bucks in the long run and think of things you may have entirely overlooked (like closets or shower niches).
Anyway, I think you get the point. Here's my final two cents on the subject: anything worth doing, is worth doing well, or you'll likely need to redo the work a couple years down the road. (You really do get what you pay for.)
Hey, gotta run to pick up some sinks in San Carlos; the stone man arrives next week to create the templates for the kitchen counters and I've got some absolutely exquisite Calcutta marble on reserve.
Do you think there's a 12-step program for serial renovators? I just may be addicted!
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 14 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.