I lost a friend last week. Truth is, I lost him several years ago when he contracted cancer and a rare brain disease and had to withdraw from working. Kenny Kassouf Jr. and his firm Permanent Floors have installed the floors for nearly everything I’ve ever built. When I first met Kenny I was in my early 20’s and knew absolutely nothing about building anything, and so nothing about flooring. Kenny patiently and over a period of years and projects brought me up to speed on his industry and his trade. Different woods, different carpets, different tiles, vendors, grouts, underlayment, trim pieces. Things I came up with that he hadn’t seen, he researched and helped me to work with those vendors or materials. Kenny, like all my vendors, was a true expert in his craft, and was willing to share his knowledge and expertise with me. None of us are born knowing about butt-joints, binding machines, schluter moldings, or thinset. As a builder, I need to know a lot about a lot of things like this. I need to know about different kinds of insulation, roofing underlayments, plumbing materials and where and where not to use them, different fasteners, adhesives, wires, connectors, pipe, codes, integrated building systems, deflection coefficients, dew points, span charts, wood species, and much much more. I can learn these things only by asking someone who knows about them to share that knowledge with me, and I’ve been fortunate that those I’ve had the great chance to meet over the years have been willing to share that knowledge with me. It’s helped me to help them to move in and out of my jobs better, more efficiently, and with less waste, and it’s helped me provide my customers with much better finished projects. Each of these people is pretty darn hard to replace. In Kenny’s case he had brought his son-in-law on board and now I have a great relationship with Ryan. But I owe Kenny a debt that I can’t pay for all his help over almost 30 years of working together. My homes are a tribute to Kenny, and all the great people that work with me to build them. Thank you all!
It’s almost cliche now- where were you on 9/11? But, every year since, today that’s what I think about. Where were we? I, and my crew, were installing the finishes on a new home in Pepper Pike. The work we were doing that day was high craftsmanship- marble floor installation and trim carpentry. I bring that up because, in the years since, the juxtaposition between a culture of craftsmanship and customer service and a culture of primitive mass destruction and murder seems to define our new century. A Western culture that has developed a sense of tolerance, playfulness, scholarship and achievement is being attacked by a culture that values might and a single book alone. The irony is that our culture of technology and thought couldn’t have developed without Islam. Rolling the clock back about a thousand years, it was the Christian west that relied solely on one book and burned and tortured non-believers. Then, it was Islam that kept the fires of Greek and Roman scholarship burning, to be re-discovered by the West in the Renaissance. Islamic scholars worked on mathematics and astronomy, explored the reach of medicine, valued libraries and art, and built on the architectural achievements of the Greeks and Romans, extending their styles and creating their own. Craftsmanship, then, was something that, at that time, Islam highly prized. It could be no other way for them to have built what they did. Now, a thousand years later, the roles are reversed. Islam has fallen under the spell of a Dark Age puritanical scholarless side, while the West has created a technologically based wonderland that has really no limits. As the brutes running Isis murder masses of people and destroy architectural and cultural masterpieces that have survived every other flavor of religion since they were built, I can only think that with the swings we’ve seen already in history that it’s possible that this too shall pass, and that the other side of Islam may one day rise up out of what we see today, so that Muslims can claim back their craftsman-like heritage. Until then, the fight between the West and this brutish malevolent and maximally violent horde will continue. More innocent people will be murdered, and more of our cultural edifices will be attacked. How sad that the human psyche can house both the lofty, striving, curious scholar and that dark murderous side that destroys everything that the latter would create. Today is the day, every year, that I think about these things, remembering the destruction of the Twin Towers and the murder of our people, remembering the people we’ve lost defending our country, and hope that, someday, the dark, brutish, destructive side of our humanity will be less fixed on destroying what our craftsmanship scholarly side may build.
Yes, Art. Capital A. Sure, there’s a lot of homes that aren’t that artistic. And more than a few that are downright homely. But, when designed and built by people that care, homes can have a true artistic quality about them. On the drawing board, under construction, or finished, these homes just seem to hit the high notes. Creating these for our customers is the fun part of my work. Working with great tradesmen, building something unique and one-of-a-kind- fun times. Sure, the weather can be a bummer, and not everything goes the way we want it to go, but, some days, when the lighting is right, you can see things in a different way, and all of a sudden, what we are crafting goes from the practical to the artistic, and, BOOM!, we just made some magic. Of course, the true magic comes later. When our customers move in and breathe life into what we built- when their families make our home their own, and make their memories in what we created, the magic is really complete. Still, well before that, when the light hits just right, the magic is there in a million other ways, and those are days that make all the harder, colder, wetter days melt away, and I remember why I started doing this.
We’re building a swimming pool. No, not for me, but for a customer. If there is ever a specialized trade, pool construction would be it. They use their own vocabulary, have issues I don’t know that much about, use parts I don’t know the name of, and have a perspective on their work that wraps only around enhancing people’s leisure time. In the end, though, pool construction, like other sub-trades, is all about expertise and experience. From my end, it’s all about bringing their team into alignment with the overall goals of our team, and making sure that all the players work as a cohesive group. But, trusting them to do what they are good at is the underpinning of our relationship. Pools in NE Ohio can have myriad issues after the fact, and they’re all bad, so hiring a great sub is paramount. Even so, everyone makes mistakes, and ours did. The kitchenette is no place for pool pumps! An easy matter-now!- to move those pipes into the right place. So, trusting your team, but verifying that things are in the right places is critical. And given the labyrinthine tangle of piping that goes under a pool, keeping all the lines straight is an artform unto itself. I’m just glad I don’t have to do it!
We have done it. We have built our first poured wall foundation. For years I held out, opting instead for the laborious masonry foundation walls. The slower, more methodical and time tested technique of laying block by hand was my preferred method of foundation construction. All around me, though, most builders have made the switch to poured foundation walls. The process takes about half the time, seems to cost a smidge less (more on that) and is a lot less weather dependent. My biggest fear was that the contractors that pour these walls wouldn’t have the attention to detail that my masons have always had, and I’d wind up with out of square, off-level walls. Well, thanks to the crew at Modern Poured Walls, we have a square, level platform for the rest of my house. The walls, which I chose to pour 10″ thick vs the standard 8″, are like a fortress, and the process took two weeks start to backfill as opposed to almost a month. My masons will still have work to do- there’s a fireplace and some other things, the poured wall will be a viable alternative for our company moving forward.