Older mountain houses are kooky. Lack of zoning, grandfather clauses, individual design and construction techniques (let’s call it), too damned ornery to adhere to code, all of the above – houses here often need to be modified, altered, or just plain worked on to make them a little more livable.
My house is no different. It was built in 1978 as someone’s summer home. As such, it was designed for maximum sun – 3 of the four doors to the outside are or were sliding patio doors – but not so much for living in the winter. The upstairs doors open on to hardwood floors which, in the winter, are tough to keep clean and dry from all the snow and mud constantly being tracked in and out. Now, the front door leads out to an 8 x 8 foot deck. Why not convert that deck into a mud room, a place to take off the coats and the boots and dry off a little before coming inside? And, while we’re at it, how about a covered walkway to the garage, and a door overhang for the back door?
I’m no builder, so a project like this meant hiring a contractor. At the time, Colorado was in the midst of a housing demand which really hasn’t died down. Builders could pick and choose their own projects – demand so far exceeded supply. After a few phone calls it was clear they weren’t all that interested in this small a job, but would take me more seriously if I had drawings. So I hired The Architect.
The Architect came to the house. He was tall, distinguished looking. I seem to recall a corduroy sports jacket. A pipe wouldn’t have been out of place. “Mud room,” I said, “on this deck. Maybe a covered walkway from here to the garage. Would have to be windproof. Same for a door overhang in the back. Replace the front sliding door with a real door while you are at it.” Okay, he gets it, he’s sketching as we go along, I’m nodding, pointing, finally asking, “How much for drawings a builder could use?” The Architect muses for a moment, puffs on his pipe, and gives me a quote.
Some weeks later, I get the drawings. And they are wonderful. He captured the ideas well. Then he hits me with a bill for almost three times the estimate. "No,” I said firmly, and reminded him of what the quote was. No angry reaction – in fact, he very quickly acquiesced. “Okay, okay,” he said, “that will be fine.”
So I paid him and kept the drawings, which I still have. Never did find a contractor to take this small a job. But couldn’t help think, yep, this was another example of the “just give them a bill and see if they pay it” approach. And they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work sometime, maybe a lot of the time. But that don’t make it right.