Twenty Seven Years and Counting
When long-time clients Lynn and Bruce Holbein asked if they could provide a testimonial for our website, Paul initially put them off. Not because he thought their review would be tepid. But because he thought it might be so effusive that no one would believe it.
Paul eventually came around on one condition: if Lynn and Bruce were going to share their story, Paul wanted to share his too. Which is how Rachel ended up interviewing the three of them about the renovation that Byggmeister did for the Holbeins from late 1986 into 1987.
Rachel: Your project was way before my time but Paul told me that it was a two-story addition.
Bruce (pointing to the opening between the kitchen and the family room): That’s right. The house ended here. There were windows here and a door out to a small patio. We raised the roof and added onto the back. We also reconfigured most of the downstairs. We happen to have a few photographs I can show you.
Paul: The baby book.
Bruce (going to get an album): Yes, this is Paul’s baby book... The first thing Paul had to contend with was the trees.
Lynn: We have nine pine trees around the house and I was adamant that none of them be disturbed.
Bruce: Lynn put a sign on the two trees closest to the house that read, “Please do not hurt me.” Paul had to hire a special, surgical excavator to protect those trees. Then afterwards they built the deck around the two trees. Every few years Paul sends someone over to enlarge the openings in the deck for the trees.
Rachel: How did you find Byggmeister?
Bruce: We were looking for bids and our architect, Sam Streibert, gave us Paul’s name. Paul sent us this amazing letter.
Lynn: It was very understated and it shone with honesty, sincerity and enthusiasm.
Bruce: We still have it in our safety deposit box.
Rachel: What do you remember about the construction itself?
Lynn: It was a big adventure. We lived here the whole time—seven months—with our three little kids while they built the addition around us. Can you imagine living with all that chaos for seven months? Yet we really had a good time.
Bruce: Lynn’s right, we did.
Lynn: You know why? Just when I was ready to cry or scream, Paul would make a joke. I remember standing at the kitchen sink one day trying to maintain some semblance of order. They were working in the addition, on the other side of the old windows, when one of the carpenters swung around with a 2x4 and broke a window. These were double-glazed windows and only one side broke. I banged on the door ready to yell at Paul. And what did he do? He was eating his lunch at the time. He picked up a ginger snap and took a bite of it, forming a little smiley face. He dropped that cookie between the broken pane of glass and the intact pane and sprinkled some sawdust on top. I just had to laugh. I always felt like we were dealing with real human beings, people who had a sense of humor.
Bruce: It’s called managing customer relations.
Paul: Or brazen unprofessionalism, one of the two. That wasn’t the only time things didn’t go smoothly.
Rachel: Such as?
Paul: For one thing, the weather was terrible that winter, and weather forecasting wasn’t as good as it is now. A nor’easter blew in right after we tore off the roof.
Bruce: That night rain came pouring into the house. We called Paul at 3:00 am, and he came out and adjusted the tarp.
Paul: Despite these misadventures, the work has for the most part held up really well.
Lynn: Not a single crack in 27 years.
Bruce: Well, that's not quite true.
Paul: We’ve come out a handful of times over the years to make adjustments and repairs. There are things we didn’t know about materials back then. For example, we didn’t know that fir isn’t great decking material, especially in the shade. It gets wet and doesn’t dry out. So we had to replace the decking.
Lynn: Yesterday we were driving home from Vermont, and Bruce said, “I have never not been happy to come home to our house.” This is our first house and it will be our last house. It worked well when we were raising kids and it works well now that we’re empty nesters.
Paul: If you continue to love coming home, then Sam Streibert gets the lion’s share of the credit. He put together a really good design.
Lynn: But there were thousands of dollars of change orders. Paul helped us make several changes to the design that significantly improved things. He fit a pantry closet into the kitchen and added a laundry chute to the bathroom.
Bruce: And see that china cabinet in the dining room? That was supposed to get torn out. But Paul agreed to carefully deconstruct and rebuild it in the opposite corner. It was the nicest thing.
Rachel: What did you learn from the project? Is there anything you’d do differently?
Paul: One really important thing I learned is that it’s much easier to do a good job if you’re working for good people. It sounds maudlin but it’s true. It was a great team and that started with Lynn and Bruce. Their enthusiasm and engagement and understanding made it a success.
Lynn: The one thing I’d do differently is give Paul a little more hubris, a little more willingness to brag. That way we could’ve been on the website years ago.