The Wild Build started with a simple intention my guy and I set three years ago – to create a sanctuary in our basement for our friends and family. In January of this year the cash arrived, and by the spring we were designing the space on long walks at Green Lake, near our home.
Truth told, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to put down more roots. I’m a gypsy. An American who grew up in Canada, I naturally seek transformation through adventure and pilgrimage. We moved eight times during the raising of our children and I would have traveled more if I could have gotten away with asking my family to live out of boxes.
However, I am married to a bear masquerading as a man. Bear snarfs berries and heavyfoots it to his bed at the end of a long day and heaves his long furry arm over my torso and holds me in his thick paw. Bear’s idea of the perfect date is my Pasta Bolognese, a crackling fire and some serious smooching. To choose investing in our home meant imagining snuggling with Bear in the Man Cave he snorted over in his dreams, instead of the wanderlusty adventure that had me in its grip. Maybe I could be rooted for a few months (years?) while I poured over travel blogs, and fashioned the next quest.
The basement is 800 square feet of reclaimed storage bin and laundry pile. The crap in there included my Brownie pins and his 1979 skis and every drawing our (now adult) children ever crayoned, about 738,965 of them, stacked in plastic bins. I tossed ten years of journals. He gave away a giant electric letter ‘R’ a buddy found while dumpster diving. We scanned and tossed and donated stuff we had theretofore been carting around three countries, claiming as sacrosanct. The rejuvenation had begun.
The first guy on the scene was the architect Mike LaFon, who lives down our beautiful street
with his beautiful family that includes Jack, a kid so calmly self-contained that I cannot take my eyes off him, in that embarrassing manner of a woman completely charmed. A few weeks ago, at the Block Party for our amazing neighborhood, I moved his mother aside so I could get a better view of Jack straggling a Hot Wheels trike over the pavement. See what I mean?
I won’t say I hired Mike because of Jack, but it certainly didn’t hurt the deal that I got to check in on the hipster kid in the guise of design meetings that went like this: Mike -- “So if we alter the stairs we can get more headroom for the six foot four Bear you married.”
Me – “Will Jack be able to come over and watch cartoons when the stairs are done?”
Mike – “Uh, sure.”
Let me stop right here and say that when you decide to build something big, you’re going to be working with guys. And when you’re working with guys, the answer is pretty much always, “Sure.” It might be, “Sure, and we’ll need to rebuild the foundation and that will cost you half a million dollars,” but there is always this very guy-like positivity, a gallantry if you will, that is all about getting the damn job done.
My friends, when you’re building, you’re really learning about Men. Menfolks, the masculine, brothers, blokes, buddies, chaps, boys, Storm Troopers. I'm on the yang side myself; my femininity does not include sufficient quantities of the woman ju-ju necessary for shopping, sewing, design, hair style or where-the-dessert-spoon-goes. I’ve always liked hanging out with guys, starting with bartending for my dad’s baseball team, a job I was put to fresh out of grade school. There’s a directness and a sweaty savoir fair that goes with the dudes. Sure, there may be players, crooks, and weirdos, but in the male form, they usually come with the swagger that forecasts their game. The male is whiskey on the rocks and a decent steak. And when you’re under construction, it’s maximum men, all the time.
Mike, father of Jack (and the wild Zora), took our big dirty rectangle, and designed a space to maximize every square inch – actually he designed three spaces and let us choose, and a girl does love options, so he had me at ‘double shower.’ We selected a layout that had a film viewing room (okay so it’s a Man Cave, but let me have my moment); a guest room; a tucked away storage room; a suave laundry room with real counters and cabinets (ooh); and a bathroom with space for the Bear and me [ahhh].
Mike walked us through all the nitpicky choices I’d never consider on my own – for example, how to work the ducting into the ceiling so the Bear didn’t have to crouch along the floor while Vitale or McEnroe crooned their ballsy operas on the Big Screen HD LCD Orgasmo Escapetron with Five Channel Surround Sound Acoustibatory Satisfaction, High Performance Guaranteed. The Bear started planning a line of lounge wear with clip-on channel changers to keep the TV technology from remotards like myself, and I began dragging him to tile stores. We were aglow in our post child-rearing, pre hard-of-hearing bliss. The Architect Extraordinaire even helped me figure out how to interview contractors, so I could hire the second half of the Michael team, or (look the other way Michael A,) Fair Beefcake Michael, as my women friends called him.
In the Wild Build Part Deux, we cover how to properly handle the moment when your contractor approaches you, in your coffee-stained robe and your face wearing yesterday’s grime and asks, “What shall we build for you today, M’lady?” Where I live, there's a quixotic renovation with one less virtuous maiden requiring attention.