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When I manage a construction project in an architecture office I am terrifically, annoyingly organized. I respond to phone calls and emails immediately. I keep and file printed copies of all documents I receive and send. I develop filing systems so that all project documents are easy to find.

But when I began my home remodel I seemed to abandon all of these practices. I began with a bang, creating a binder with carefully labeled sections for existing conditions drawings, design sketches, product specifications, and reference images. I carried this binder with me as I shopped for products, packed it in my suitcase when I traveled, and left it on an end table right by my desk, so that I could reach it at any moment.

But before long I had much more information than could be stored in the binder. Piles sprang up around the binder, on top of it and on the floor below, piles of plumbing fixture catalogues, cabinet specifications, and outdated drawings. Eventually tile samples and paint chips found their way into these piles, and then cost estimates and invoices. The piles got higher and started spilling into one another and then into other, unrelated piles in my bedroom, piles of unsorted mail and trashy magazines. As a result there are no real project files for my home remodel project, only project piles.

When working in an office I keep a typed project directory, which lists the contact information for all the contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers on a project, and update the document weekly. For my home remodel I just slipped all the relevant business cards I had collected in a plastic sleeve, although I believe that there are still a few important ones swimming around at the bottom of my purse.


Most of my communication with vendors and suppliers was through email, and most of my communication with my contractor Martin and his team was over the phone. Although I prefer email contractors always seem to prefer the phone. (Since my contractor Martin and the site supervisors, Brian and Joe, are Irish, it is always a pleasure to answer the phone and hear their lovely brogues, regardless of what they were actually saying to me.)

There were no scheduled site meetings but almost every morning I met with Brian and Joe and we talked about what work would be done that day and what steps would come next. They followed the drawings carefully but called me whenever they had specific questions. (Which way should the medicine cabinet door open? How thick is the kitchen countertop?) Martin came to the site about once each week, often after work hours, to review progress and discuss the schedule. Because it was a small remodel and a small team, this informal way of working worked well.

That is not the case with my record-keeping. Maybe because this project is so close to me, so personal, I abandoned my office habits and tried to manage it in a less regimental, hands-on way. It’s not something I would recommend. Keeping good records is the only way to track decisions and costs accurately. For my next remodel project, I’ll be sure to bring a more professional attitude to doing filing and paperwork.

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