Diary of a renovator: best-laid plans

Xiu Fang

I don't know how it is for other renovators but now that my project is coming to an end one thing has become clear: planning can be a waste of time.

About a month before my contractor and his men started demolishing walls, I spent weekends fine-tuning ideas for the house. Keith and Will, my patient architects, helped put on paper a staircase, rooms, tile patterns, lights, furniture, electrical sockets and more. They even asked whether I needed a plug beneath my dining table for hot-pot gatherings.

At HK$500 a socket, the costs multiplied as I tried to envisage where best to place electrical equipment, what my vacuuming habits might be, how many lamps were necessary, and even the best places for mosquito zappers. However, like my packing habits when I'm heading for unknown lands, I overestimated what was necessary. Worse, I didn't check the plugs would be situated where they could be reached.

As a result, two of the four sockets behind a desk are hidden by drawers, the outlet in the living room is not accessible because no one measured the legs of the armoire in front of it, and the power point on my bookshelf is unused. The CD player/radio for which it was intended picks up so much static there the cat would resemble Tina Turner's wig if she were to walk past.

Some of the problems have been the fault of my contractor, Joe, who, I think, scans what has taken my architects hours to perfect, then files the drawings in the boot of his car. This morning I discovered that sketches detailing how electrical wiring would be hidden beneath my work desk had been disregarded.

'Where's the panel to conceal the spaghetti?' I asked. 'You want a door under your desk?' he asked. That discussion went no further.

Then there were the unforeseen complications. Because termites had chewed through the wooden beams supporting the first floor, extra supports were erected. This included an incongruous column beside the staircase. 'Tie bamboo scaffolding around it,' said an artist I met at a party. 'That would be cool!'

Not - although her idea beat others, which included painting it silver for pole dancing; turning it into an indoor tree for the cat; even cutting a round hole in the floor above, in case I needed to make a quick exit - fireman-fashion.

In the end, I built a Harry Potter-type room beneath the stairs to conceal the column. No, the helper won't be sleeping in there. It'll be used for storage or as a brig if anyone misbehaves.

Admittedly several of the last-minute changes have been my doing. Minutes before my floor tiles were laid I discovered that arranging them Mondrian-style would mean about 15 per cent wastage, so a simple pattern was chosen instead. The tiler was pleased - less work for him - but my architects will tsk when they see what I've done.

They can't have been pleased either with my change of heart about the interior window. To increase light, I asked for an opening in the wall separating my bedroom and office. But the collywobbles set in when a fung shui practitioner told me I was asking for trouble sleeping under a window. 'You will invite bad chi into your life,' he said.

I now have a solid wall. The renovation had so sapped my energy I no longer possessed the faculty to reason. But it hadn't worn me down completely. In designing a chest-high iron gate to be placed near the dog's kennel, I drew a slatted bottom half so he could look out for bandits.

Several weeks later it was installed - upside down and back to front. Whoever used the gate would have to duck under a 100cm-high bar forming part of the frame.

The same day the third instalment of the renovation fee was due. 'The job's almost done,' I was told. 'We plan to be finished by the middle of the month.' There was the 'P' word again.

'Go through the gate,' I urged my contractor.

'You want me to leave?'

'I'll pay you if you tell me why it's all wrong.'

'Oh! You don't want to bend over?'

Funny how money can make plans work.

If you have renovation-related tales you would like to share, e-mail Xiu Fang at [email protected]