#24 Renovation

Moving to Mexico was partnered with the understanding that changes would be made.  The house has “great bones”, is eco-friendly, and the views are beautiful but upon move in it lacked one important feature, a dining room.  We bought knowing we would soon enclose a covered area on the deck to create a place to gather for meals.  

Small table in the kitchen of our homes. Included in the photo are the extremely uncomfortable chairs that leave a woven design imprinted on your thighs for hours following a meal.

After two months of sharing a tiny table and rock, paper, scissoring each night to determine who would get to sit in the one chair with a view we began our search for a contractor.  We were ready to create our vision of the dining space.

During conversations with potential builders one thought fostered another.  Before we knew it we had three bids to not only enclose a space but to additionally rip out the entire deck, build planters, restructure the deck railing, redo portions of the pool and add an outdoor kitchen.  We were ready to get the show on the road.

Anyone who has ever lived through a renovation project knows there is one common factor of all construction…the ever extending timeline of completion. In Mexico this is magnified by the further fact that, “We’ll get to that mañana,” does not mean it will be taken care of tomorrow. It simply means whatever it is, it’s not happening today.  With this understanding, demolition began October 16th. We had a promise from the contractor that we would have a place to dine with our family on Christmas Day. Work was scheduled to take six to eight weeks and we had a nine and a half week window for the reno. We had time to spare. Right?

For weeks we awoke to the gentle sounds of jackhammers, drills, and jovial voices of the construction crew steered by a guy named Chapo.  No, not that Chapo.  The crew was incredible and we enjoyed watching our vision slowly evolve into a reality.  Concrete built-ins were demolished, heat retaining flagstone chipped away, metal railings removed and routing created for electrical and gas lines.  With rudimentary tools and equipment these men used remarkable problem solving skills daily.

Soon planters were taking shape, railings were extended and welded in place, decking was cemented into position and a fire pit was constructed.  As the space transformed our biggest concern remained the dining area, the central feature of which would be large, sliding glass doors. These would allow for a lovely setting and spectacular view during meals. Not to mention it was this portion of the space that initiated the entire renovation.

Dining area sans sliding doors. Beautiful with the hand built table that shockingly took a mere six weeks to construct.

November rolled in, Thanksgiving came and went and finally the dust began to settle.  By early December we washed windows, put the grill into position, settled cacti in the planters and brought out deck furniture.  As promised by Christmas we indeed had a dining area. However, it was lacking one important feature…doors.

Mexican Christmas tree complete with tin ornaments, tissue paper flowers and a sombrero topper.

Weeks earlier we learned the doors were arriving from Guadalajara and were still in transit.  On Christmas we indeed dined outside as a family to celebrate the special day but did so bundled in layers. The weather had turned cool and misty to remind us that seasons do still exist even in usually sunny Mexico.  There were no complaints as we speedily downed turkey and veggies to avoid ingesting less than belly warming nosh. Dessert however was eaten inside while our appendages thawed.

We entered 2020 with much festivity knowing the doors and custom built framing would make its way to San Carlos in a matter of weeks.  Late January the big day arrived. The glass panels were carried down the front stairs, through the house and onto the deck. The frame was another story.  It was too large to fit through the door. It had to be carried down a side catwalk then hoisted up and over a wall using a variety of ropes strung together resembling an attempt at Rapunzel’s tower. Finally they made it onto the back deck for placement. This was just another example of problem solving at its best. 

The moment of truth had arrived. Time to slide the frame into place, screw it into the opening, move the glass panels into position, adjust the doors and enjoy the view from the new dining room.  Not so fast.

Mike and I watched as the crew carefully tilted the frame into position only to become instantly aware that it was too large for the opening.  Too small, not such a big deal. But too large, disaster. The contractor’s face drained of color as the problem washed over his brain. How this happened seemed to be an utter mystery.  Having confidence the contractor and his crew would find a remedy we simply turned and walked into the house knowing there was nothing to be said that would aid in current the situation.

As we shifted into February the sounds of demolition and clouds of dust returned to our casa as the opening was enlarged and the electrical wiring relocated. 

Our daily mantra became, “Due to the current situation, the light at the end of the tunnel has been removed until further notice.” After all, it is what it is.  Complaining can and often is a complete waste of time and energy. Within a few weeks, the opening was widened, switches were moved, repainting completed, the frame was installed and glass panels were set into place.  It looked exactly as we had imagined!

It was time to slide the doors.  They were beasts but slid sort of if ample muscle strength was applied.  The movement of the doors was enhanced by a “nails on the chalkboard” sound created when they were slid to the left or right.  This was not exactly the vision we had.  Adjustments to the doors were made by the crew using rubber mallets and brute strength.  The two men put to the task of door adjustments resembled both literally and figuratively the trusty duo of Skipper and Gilligan during their many attempts and more often fails to resolve problems on the deserted island following the well known and thwarted three hour cruise of the minnow.  The proverbial straw came when the door’s locking mechanism was installed backwards thus allowing for the persons to be locked into the dining room rather than preventing an unwanted entry from someone outside. This is crazy, esto es loco!

“Big Boy” and Ernesto are the Gilligan and Skipper of San Carlos. They are extremely hard working guys and are a pleasure to work with.

A professional locksmith was called in to solve the problem.  Finally, a professional would come in and save the day.  His solution was to use a different lock which would require drilling away additional metal from the frame.  I asked if the new lock could go into the existing hole in the frame. His response, “No but the holes could be covered with black electrical tape.”  WHAT? It is true that tape can and is used to repair many mistakes. But there was no way this was going to be the solution.  The calmness evaporated from my soul as I discussed this with the contractor who fully agreed tape was not a solution.  The professional was released from his duty.

A week later Skipper and Little Buddy returned with an updated fix.  Door panels were removed, rearranged, readjusted and a lock was installed on the correct side of the door.  Voilà!  I’ll admit, muscles are still required for movement of the doors but the screeching has taken leave.  In years to come I’ve asked Mike about hiring a brawny and potentially very handsome doorman to slide the doors to the dining area but for now we are managing on our own.

The second week of March, renovations were finalized just a mere three months over the timeline.  We love the changes and look forward to enjoying the space for years. I’ve decided that construction is a lot like childbirth.  It’s a bit painful at the time but your love of the result is so strong you forget the unbearable part of the adventure. Often people even decide to go through the pain time and time again.  Such is the case in San Carlos, Mexico. Just last week we both began muttering subtle comments about additional property facelifts. Moving forward however, we will employ the use of the phrase, “Measure twice (or thrice or even seven times), cut once.”

Post Renovation. Absolutely nothing to complain about here.

March 22, 2020

“No trip to Home Depot is complete without at least two more trips to Home Depot for things you didn’t know you would need.”

– Every person who has ever started a simple DIY project.

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