Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays — Rewrites/Edits

Hi everyone. I’ve been knee-deep in polishing the book (finished! woot!) and getting it read by betas (also woot!) and then polishing some more (not so woot, but damn, one day…)

Today, I don’t have photos. Coming soon–photos of the big building in the Quarter remodel. We’re working on a project that is now into the beginning of the third year (technically), and there’s finally starting to be some real progress to show for it. The entire first year, it was all about figuring out the plans (many many drafts) and then the second year was demo and submitting said plans to the Vieux Carré Committee (VCC)–the historical committee which has authority over everything that touches the atmosphere… and then some framing.

For the record, the VCC has a reputation of brutal hostility and a great desire to make anyone who comes before them regret breathing. Which sort of stuns me, a year later, because we got every single thing we asked for. And we asked for <em>a lot</em>.

Also for the record? I did not attend the meetings. My husband did. My husband is waaaaay more even keeled than I am (big surprise there) and when people are being particularly stupid, he does not feel the need to point this out to them. I have a difficult time refraining.

The process, it turned out, was so similar to writing a book, it felt like wearing old, favorite jammies. First, we had to come up with the conceptual drawing — what we ultimately wanted, without being married to all of the little details. That took a long, long time, because the concept was that we wanted to add a third floor. (It was originally a two story building.) There are strict (exceptionally strict) rules to this in the Quarter, though. They generally will not allow it if (a) it didn’t have a third floor at one time in the past or (b) it can be seen by anyone else. The “no” is so automatic, that to have bought a building on the wish and a prayer that we could add a third floor was <em>insane</em>

But, well, we <em>are</em> insane, so that wasn’t that far of a leap for us. We wanted to be able to keep the bottom floor for parking (one side) and commercial space) other side. (The interior of the building is divided into two by an old brick wall. From what I can tell from illustrations from the late 1800s, there used to be two buildings on this lot, and in the early 1900s, a new façade was added, turning into one building. Previous to the two buildings, the lot was the courtyard for the original governor’s mansion of the Louisiana Territory.)

Anyway, the no-adding a floor rule is pretty strict, but the people across the street had lobbied for years and got one. I can’t imagine how, as their third floor can definitely be seen by others in the Quarter. Ours, however, would be visible only to them and not even from the street level, if you’re standing in front of the building. There’s only one spot you can see it and for reasons that make no sense whatsoever, the VCC didn’t count that against us. We got the approval for the third floor. Our main argument, though, was that there was, technically, a third floor up there. The building had a raised roof–a half-floor in height–in two different areas of the roof. That raised roof had windows all the way around which allowed light down into the building. There are spots on the second floor where you can see the floor was filled in long after the original construction; originally, though, those openings were there to allow light to flood all the way to the ground. We pointed out that we were keeping the same concept… mostly… that we were just raising up that roof to a full floor height and that we’d still have the same amount of windows all the way across/around. It wasn’t the strongest of arguments, but they bought it. Whew.

Over the last year, we’ve begun all the framing/building, and are getting to the point where it’s time for the sub-contractors to come in and do the electrical, the plumbing, then the sheetrock and cabinets. But that same year saw us going back to the VCC multiple times for “edits” to the plan. Because as we “lived in” the building, walked around the rooms, picturing them and how we’d live in them, we kept having little epiphanies, ways to improve how we’d live in the building, and how we’d use it. We had to define our goal and keep refining it until we got it down to a clean, concise idea–one we could both agree on. (Luckily, we’re generally in synch. Generally. That is not to say there weren’t a couple of heavy death-matches for certain things.)

It’s not all that different from rewriting a book. You have to conceptualize the story. What it’s about helps to eliminate everything <em>it’s not</em>. A story can’t be everything to everyone. It’ll fail, if you aim for that sort of vague target. You have to not be afraid to be specific, to know what you want, and why you want it.

And you may not know all of those things at once. You’ll go through drafts, having epiphanies, figuring things out. You’ll fall in love with some things, only to realize later that doing that one thing–clinging to it–is torquing everything else out of line, and you have to let it go, to realize that it’s not working for you. Eventually, everything that’s not doing its job–making the story better–has got to go. [In the building, I was absolutely determined beyond any reasoning that the master bathtub was going to float in the center of the room. I’d pinned a dozen or more pins of master suites where they had that sort of design and I <em>loved</em> them. But… there were other things I wanted just as much, and having that tub out there was killing me on the other stuff. Which I stubbornly refused to admit to for almost nine months, but when I finally capitulated, it freed me up to come up with a much much better design. I love the design now, and while I don’t quite have the floating tub room, I think what I ended up with is much much better.]

I can tell you there were some quirky, hairball ideas we had that we tried to cling to for the building. Some managed to stay, because they made the building work for us. Some had to be jettisoned–very reluctantly–because they blocked us from doing something better.

Drafts on a story are like that. I’ve done more than fifty drafts on this book, if I counted everything. There were a few scenes I was married to in the beginning that I wouldn’t let go, no matter what. (Um, they are now all gone, all except one, which underwent such a transformation, it might as well be completely new.)

You have to be willing to do that kind of work. On a building, or in a draft.

Right now, we’re at the stage in the building where it’s still kinda ugly on the outside (it’s not painted yet), and it’s still stud walls and ladders and scaffolds. I can see, though, what it will be when we’re done. The bones are there. I haven’t made all the final decisions on finishes, but that’s just a polish, really.

We just got approval for the last big “ask” from the VCC (folding French doors for the porch of the third floor, essentially giving us a year-round sunroom up there). Anything else might be tweaks. They’re happy with the color choice (I’ll have to post a photo of the swatches I painted on the wall to show you), and I now have to refine exactly where the accent colors will go.

Lots and lot of people complain about the VCC forcing them to be historically accurate, and not letting them add a bunch of modern things. I have to admit, I’m baffled by that. If that’s your preference, don’t buy something in a historical area. Duh. To me, the restrictions were a challenge, an opportunity.

Same with genre–with story. Pick the kind of story you want to live in, the place/feel/textures you love, and commit to that. That doesn’t mean you can’t push boundaries (we’re going to be the only building in the Quarter with solar power, because we not only asked, we figured out how to do it and where to put it that worked within the VCC’s perimeters). Push them, but don’t massacre them.

Next time, some photos of the progress.

13 thoughts on “Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays — Rewrites/Edits

  1. Kelly S says:

    Sounds amazing! I’m really looking forward to the pictures!

    Also, your last point I think is worth dwelling on. You worked within the perimeters that the VCC set. You showed respect for what they’re trying to preserve while still obtaining and fulfilling your wants by providing creative solutions. Well done!

    Also, I think I need to remember when dealing with potentially difficult people to send my husband who is much calmer and thus appears much nicer.

  2. Fabulous, Toni. I love how you’ve done a comparison between the rehab/reconstruct of the building to writing a novel. It’s like taking that first rough draft and tearing it down, or building it up. I love it. I always remember Barb Samuels saying that the rough draft was like painting the room and then you have to go in and put in the furniture and accessorize. There has to be time given to step back and assess, to play with the accent colors, to see how it will be lived in. To get a feel for the overall product.
    Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to photos.

  3. This was terrific! I am looking forward to photos, but I love your wonderful metaphor of reconstruction as writing. Or vice versa.

    I too am always amazed by people who choose to buy a home in some specific area, one that has specific requirements, rules, and limitations that they know about upfront, and who then kick and scream and chafe against those requirements, rules, and limitations. Weird.

    And solar power?! I love you! I totally want to have alternative energy in a house I own someday. But first, I have to be able to buy said home ….

  4. Jessie says:

    This is timely. After 30 years in the same house and doing almost everything ourselves, we are tired. So first thing we started doing is hiring subcontractors. (Rule: expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. Look at their work. However, cheap doesn’t necessarily mean a good deal, merely a job you will have to re-do).

    But there have been a few things we couldn’t resolve and there have been a couple of things we did not foresee that we would end up redoing several times (We need to add another gas Line. This is the third time!!!) So even though we hate to pay for something we can do ourselves, we are talking to an architect.

    And we may be driving her crazy but right off, if we go with nothing else, she solved one big problem. She looked at our hallway and said This jog is wasted space. Let’s move the door over and straighten it out and look how much space we end up with. Wow. We never saw that. On the other hand, we have to keep saying We don’t want a bigger kitchen. We like how our kitchen works now. I don’t want to move another wall for bigger. As you say. Major epiphanies are out there if you are open to them.

  5. Toni, I wanna come live with you for a while to learn some of this stuff. There is SO MUCH I’d love to do to this old house (Really 1830 is when the first version went in) but I’ve got no idea how to go about it, and even less money to do it with.

    I have a feeling I could learn a boat load of stuff from your project! And about writing too, come to think of it.

  6. Catherine says:

    Congratulations on progressing with your book and abode. I think it’s great you’re at a point where you can see your hard work paying off.

  7. Micki says:

    Love, love, love this. Can’t wait to see the pictures, but it’s really helping me with my book, today.

    You said: Because as we “lived in” the building, walked around the rooms, picturing them and how we’d live in them, we kept having little epiphanies, ways to improve how we’d live in the building, and how we’d use it. We had to define our goal and keep refining it until we got it down to a clean, concise idea–one we could both agree on.

    Yes. Gotta go live in my book a little more.

  8. Aw, thank you all! I was gone all day visiting my parents. Haven’t gotten to see them as much as I’d like.

    So tickled to share. And am very happy to answer any construction related questions you might have. I’m not guaranteeing I actually know the answer, but when has that ever stopped me? (grin)

    (Actually, I’ll go ask Carl if I don’t know. He’s pretty danged handy.)

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