In this column from the Last Word series, Duncan Stuart shares his latest experience with a kitchen renovation and reflects on how good communication needs to be at the heart of every project.
Good clear communication is at the very heart of every successful project. If you leave anything even slightly vague, then expect to have sleepless nights. On our latest project we’ve had a pretty smooth time thanks to a project manager who consults the plans and sets his expectation very clearly with all the tradespeople that he deals with. Ken has been brilliant.
So, armed with a set of plans in which every screw has been specified (galvanised 60-millimetre flat-heads) – and given the benefit of the ‘Ken factor’ – you would think there would be no room for doubt. With our place, everything was specced down to the finest and I might add, modest, detail.
Take our kitchen sink. We never wanted one of those flashy units with towering whoosh-o-matic tapware that looks more like a sprung-loaded car-wash unit. We didn’t want an ‘In-sink-erator’ either. The compost bin for us.
So our drawings showed the single sink unit we specified and even noted the brand we had chosen: a readily available, locally produced unit. How hard could it be?
Well for some reason when the bench top arrived, it came with – ta-daa! – two separate sinks of a different size and different brand from the single unit shown in the plans. “Would you mind?” asked the kitchen crowd. It was a close decision to be honest, and having two sinks wasn’t ever going to be the end of the world.
Except... except there was a bigger principle here: why couldn’t the suppliers simply stick to the plans? Ken put it this way: “Would you be annoyed by that detail every time you entered the kitchen?” The answer was yes. So back went the bench unit to be redone, and not at our expense.
The same occurred with the tiling. Now, I love tiling but from my own DIY experience I’ve learned the absolute importance of starting with a level surface. If there are bumps or bulges in the substrate, then you’re doomed. I once had a kitchen project that looked like a single Saturday job, and ended up taking me three weekends as I tried to smooth out some lumpy, crooked Gib board. I took tiles off and on repeatedly, cracking half in the process. It was an ugly, low-budget remake of the ‘Battle of the Bulge’.
But what I love about tiling is that the tiles are square, you now get little plastic spacers so that the gaps are straight, and you even get metal or plastic edging so you’re pretty much guaranteed a sharp, professional finish.
Where tiling professionals have that extra eye is in their ability to get a better layout. They think about symmetry and for that reason tend to start from the centre. So this is how our architect drew up the plans. Tile by tile (based on our chosen tiles) he drew the bathroom and kitchen to show how every tile and every grout line would go. “Too much!” said Ken. “This is over-specced!”
Apparently not. The tiling crew stormed the main bathroom and the en-suite and within a day had done what at first glance was an outstanding job. But wait, asked my wife, why didn’t the grout lines line up between the floor tiles and the wall tiles? And where were the tiled recesses for the shampoo bottles in the shower?
So off came some of the tiles, and once these were lifted I saw that on one wall the remaining ceramic was floating on giant mallow-puffs of grout. You could insert a finger between the tile and the wall substrate.
I’ve ended up feeling like Oscar the Grout. A bit tetchy and grumpy. But never mind feelings. Off came these tiles as well, and the tiling crew have gallantly started again. Ken’s ‘would you be annoyed if...’ test is a good practical test. Communicate always that you want it done right.
This column by Duncan Stuart featured on page 118 in Issue 007 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.
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