The house was finished and rented out, although I still remained unsettled about the whole deal, even though the immediate pressure was off.
I had grown to like the house and I was very comfortable with the tenets. However, I was still unsettled. I am unsure exactly why I felt this way. As I reflect on it, I guess it was that I had poured my heart, soul and a lot of money into a project that I was no longer a part of.
I really hadn’t let go of the house when it was rented out. I suppose a lot of that was also due to the fact that both tenets were there on a short-term rental.
When all was said and done, the final budget numbers showed that we had stayed within our original budget. We had to change some priorities and shuffle around a number of planed upgrades in order to cover the unforeseen costs of various aspects of the project like the plumbing. This alone represents over five thousand dollars of unplanned expenditure.
The rent covered the mortgage payments but there was no wiggle room for anything else.
TJ, my business partner, along with Sid and I continued to work on various commissions we had sold.
The financial hemorrhaging had stopped due to the rental income, which bought me some time. However, I began to ponder the ‘what ifs’ and to entertain some new options.
One immediate idea that came to me was to use the first and second floor for a fine furniture showroom. The tenant was a friend of ours and had rented the house on a short term basis while waiting to close on a new town house. He had agreed to the possibility of me storing furniture in the house, as he only used an upstairs bedroom and the downstairs bathroom and kitchen.
He had placed his furniture in storage, when he sold his condominium, and brought only a few items to the house. He was rarely at the house other than to sleep and had very basic living needs and limited furniture. Knowing that he would be moving in less than five months, he had placed most of his furniture in storage.
I had envisioned using the newly remodeled house to showcase the various pieces of furniture that I had designed and was in the process of building. I pictured each room set up as close to real life as possible with corresponding pieces of handmade furniture.
I was very interested in designing and building variations of Mission, and Arts and Crafts pieces I had come across and admired. Most of the classic pieces with which I was familiar were either too time consuming, not economically feasible to build, or simply not practicable for this house. There was a good chance that I would be carrying the costs of these sample pieces that I planned on building for a considerable period of time. My intention of using this house as a showcase for my furniture building would cost less in the long run than renting a store front. In addition to the obvious increase in overhead, another major problem with renting a storefront would be to find staffing that could cover the times during which the showroom was open. Besides, another consideration was the fact that this was a residential area and running a home business would be in violation of city ordinances and local zonings.
If this was to become more or less a full time job, I was concerned and somewhat afraid that I might lose my passion for and love of building hand crafted furniture. I was afraid the economic realities of making payroll for Sid and covering all of our other overheads would cause me to become concerned with producing volume rather than concentrating on the quality of the furniture that we produced. My passion was for the latter.
I wrestled with this for a long time. The reality was that I had to build furniture that would be affordable and sell rather quickly. I knew that the furniture pieces that would be the most challenging to make would also be the most expensive. To be profitable and remain in business, I knew that I would have to keep costs under control to be able to produce pieces that would sell quickly. I knew that pieces incorporating advanced design would be the most labor intensive, therefore would simply be off limits to most of my customers.
I had to be honest with myself and admit that the good commissions that allowed me to be able to design and build a piece with out regard to cost were going to be few and far between.
For the time being I had help because Sid was still out of full time work and teaching jobs were hard to come by. My other helper and business partner, TJ, helped me with the staining on weekends.
One other influencing factor in my decision to try designing, building and selling fine furniture was my employment situation. The contract for driving the metro buses and trains had expired and it appeared that management and the union was at an impasse; headed for a strike.
At best, I knew that I would only be able to do both jobs for a limited time. I had been working seven days a week already and was feeling burned. I knew that I could only go on like this for a limited period.
I had invested several thousand dollars in tools and additional thousands in making my shop functional with the installation of a heater, 220V electrical, as well as several other improvements. This was necessary not only for the work I had been doing on the side, but in order for me to complete the rehabilitation work on “This Old Crack House”.
I was looking for any avenue I could to add income because it appeared that we were heading for a strike with my regular job as a part-time bus driver. Our contract had expired over a year ago and no progress had been made on a new contract. I simply couldn’t afford not to have an income.
I am the type of person who looks for a way to make something pay for itself or give me a return for my investment. I think that came from growing up on the farm and having very little to work with in terms of capital and low financial returns from our milking operation which consisted of 110 ten cows. We were no stranger to hard work; we worked seven days a week. We were taught early on that if you wanted to eat you will work. Without exception this was true for the whole family.
My father, now in his late eighties, still gets up every day at five in the morning and works on some project around the home. He still mows six acres of grass and takes care of my sister’s home a quarter mile away. He suffers from an advance stage of Parkinson, but refuses to let that be an excuse for not doing what he considers his fair share.
When he heard Ms. D a wheelchair ramp built in order to be able to be released from the nursing home, he was the first to volunteer to help.
To this day, I have a hard time just sitting and relaxing. However, I at least take one day a week off. I try resting on Sunday. I simply can’t work like I used to anymore. My hand has become very painful and hinders my ability to work like I once did. It’s a simple fact, whether I like it or not. My hand is full of arthritis and scar tissue from eight surgeries and, at times, the pain so excoriating, I can hardly bear it. I don’t take any drugs or pain medication for the pain. I never have, and have no intentions of starting now. I have been blessed to be able to use it as much as I have.
I have no reason to complain and won’t. I am grateful I still have my overall health.
One way I have been able to make some extra money on the side other than doing remodeling jobs or building furniture has been teaching advanced woodworking for a national woodworking retail store. This has been both demanding and rewarding. I also have taught a lot of beginning woodworking classes and have never charged a dime; nor will I ever. I feel very strongly about giving back some of what I have received from the craft of woodworking. I never had anyone teach me and vowed a long time ago that if I ever had an opportunity to teach or give back, I would do so freely. I have done and still do this to this day.
In my head, I began to plan and think about how I could use the house as a showcase for the furniture I designed and built with TJ and Sid’s help.
Slowly a complete picture of the show room I wanted began to emerge in my mind. The concept and plan was very simple.
To the best of my ability, the showroom would simply be a reflection of the historically correct period of furniture I was attempting to recreate. I wanted it to be a place where I could showcase my designs, tastes and works. Early on, I set guidelines for myself to follow. They included things such as; furniture that was practical, affordable, and functional. The furniture also had to have exceptional visual appeal.
Due to the house’s narrow halls, small rooms, and the low headers clearance over the stairways, I had several challenges to overcome.
One of the greatest influences in choosing the period furniture from the Arts and Crafts and Mission styles, was the woodwork which I had to build and reinstall after the previous homeowners miserably failed in their attempt to refinish it.
The style of the house, along with the hardwood floors, layout and stucco finish all lent to the decision to build a theme or style of furniture that most people would call Arts and Crafts or Mission period furniture.
Furthermore, I had a personal preference for and an interest in this period. At that point in my woodworking journey, I had limited knowledge and experience, nor did I know much of the history of the style of furniture known as Mission. In short I had no clue about any of it except that I liked it. That was enough to get me to try build some of it.
Over the next year it added up to over fifty pieces alone for the showroom. In total over one hundred and forty three pieces of Arts and Crafts and Mission furniture would be built. The pieces that I didn’t use in the show room were sold to pay for the ones I keep.
There was neither a dull moment nor time to waste. I worked seven days a week 12 to fourteen hours a day besides driving my shift for my bus route. Sid and TJ helped as much as they could.
To say the least, I was exhausted and wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. In fact, if I have one regret, it would be that I didn’t enjoy the journey more while I was on it. Over all, I have few regrets in life but this would be one of them that I didn’t take more time to enjoy the journey. To be profitable, I had to be focused and production orientated in order to meet my time lines.
The first piece of furniture I built was a dining-room hutch. I wanted this to be not only a signature piece but a central focus and theme-setting room. I felt this piece would set the tone for the rest of the house. I think it accomplished this.
If I only knew of the incredible challenges and sheer amount of work that lay ahead of me, I should have sold that first piece and taken the money and ran when I had the chances. But I didn’t and now I have a story and memories that many people seem to think I should tell.
I will try.
I have no doubt I will fall short in this effort also but I will try my best.
Copyright… all rights reserved D.Jerzak 05/15/07